Starting Shabbos Early

sunsetQuestion #1: Asking for help

“If I accepted Shabbos early, may I ask my neighbor, who is beginning Shabbos at the regular time, to turn on a light?”

Question #2: Very early Shabbos

“How early can I begin Shabbos?”

Question #3: 18 versus 20

“Some communities schedule candle lighting 18 minutes before sunset on Friday, whereas others schedule it 20 minutes before sunset. Is there a halachic reason for the difference?”

Question #4: Some like it late

“If all the shullen in my neighborhood make Shabbos early, am I obligated to do so?”

Answer:

All the questions above involve a mitzvah called tosefes Shabbos, the halachic requirement to begin observing Shabbos before the day has yet arrived and, also, to continue observing Shabbos for some time after the day is over on Saturday night. The early authorities discuss whether tosefes Shabbos requires one to begin Shabbos a specific amount before the set hour, or whether it is left to the individual’s discretion to decide how much extra time one treats as Shabbos (Tosafos, Beitzah 30a s.v. Deha; cf. Toras Ha’adam page 252).

Why eighteen minutes?

There are different customs regulating how many minutes before sunset one should kindle the Shabbos lights. Most places today establish the official time as at least eighteen minutes before sunset. The reason for this is because there are opinions that Shabbos begins between 13½ and 18 minutes before sunset (Sefer Yere’im; see Mishnah Berurah 261:23 and Shaar Hatziyun ad locum). This approach is based on a method of understanding the Talmudic passages regarding the scientific phenomena that define the end of the day. Kindling Shabbos lights at least eighteen minutes before sunset accomplishes three things.

  1. It prevents one from doing melachah, even according to the opinion of the Sefer Yere’im.
  2. It guarantees that one fulfills the mitzvah of tosefes Shabbos.
  3. It provides time to prepare for the arrival of the sanctity of Shabbos.

18 versus 20

At this point, we can already address one of our opening questions:

“Some communities schedule candle lighting 18 minutes before sunset on Friday, whereas others schedule it 20 minutes before sunset. Is there a halachic reason for the difference?”

In order to fully accommodate the Yere’im’s opinion, some authorities contend that one should kindle the Shabbos lights before eighteen minutes prior to sunset, so that there is tosefes Shabbos, even according to those who understand that he held that Shabbos enters eighteen minutes before sunset (Mishnah Berurah 261:23 and Shaar Hatizyun). This is why many communities schedule candle lighting twenty minutes before sunset — the extra two minutes fulfill the mitzvah of tosefes Shabbos, even according to the most stringent position. Those who schedule candle-lighting for exactly eighteen minutes accept that this fulfills the vast majority of halachic opinions and all the major accepted approaches.

How does someone accept Shabbos?

Women usually accept Shabbos when they kindle the Shabbos candles. There is a difference between Ashkenazic and Sefardic practice as to how this is done. Ashkenazim assume that a woman accepts Shabbos when she recites the blessing on the kindling. Therefore, an Ashkenazic woman kindles her Shabbos lights before she recites the blessing, since, once she recites the blessings, she has accepted Shabbos and cannot light the candles or lamps. To accomplish having the brocha recited before the mitzvah, the Rema (Orach Chayim 263:5) advises that she block the light from herself with her hand. The common practice is that she covers her eyes with her hands while reciting the brocha and upon completing the brocha removes her hands, so that she can see and benefit from the kindled Shabbos lights.

Sefardic women recite the brocha of lehadlik neir shel Shabbos and then kindle the lights. They assume that she accepts Shabbos when she completes kindling the lights. Therefore, many have the practice that she does not extinguish the match with which she kindles the Shabbos lights, but instead places the match down so that it goes out by itself (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 263:10).

Both Sefardic and Ashkenazic women should recite the minchah prayers before lighting the candles, since once one has accepted Shabbos, one can no longer daven the weekday Friday minchah. However, if the day is drawing to a close and the candles still stand unkindled, one should kindle the Shabbos lights, even though, as a result, one will be unable to daven minchah (Mishnah Berurah 263:43). If this happens, a woman should daven maariv that night, and, immediately upon backing up the steps to complete “shemoneh esrei,” she should wait a few seconds, and then step forward to recite the same shemoneh esrei a second time (ibid.). This second prayer is a tefilas tashlumim, a make-up prayer, to replace the minchah that was missed (Brachos 26a). Reciting the Shabbos maariv amidah prayer a second time qualifies as restitution for the missing tefillah, notwithstanding that it is very different from the unrecited weekday minchah.

Conditional lighting

Should a woman not want to accept Shabbos upon kindling her lights, many authorities permit her to postpone accepting Shabbos until later (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 263:10). This stipulation should be performed only under extenuating circumstances (Magen Avraham 263:20). After making this condition, she may kindle her lights and, sometime before sunset, she must stop doing melachah and accept Shabbos.

Several authorities rule that, should someone decide not to accept Shabbos when kindling early, someone else in the household must accept Shabbos at that time. According to one opinion, if no one accepts Shabbos when she kindles, then the brocha recited upon kindling the lights is recited in vain, a brocha levatalah (Graz 263:11; however, see Mishnah Berurah 263:20 and Rema 263:10). However, if she herself will be accepting Shabbos within eight to ten minutes of her kindling, it is not necessary for someone else to accept Shabbos immediately after she kindles the lights (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 11:21).

Example:

For example, a family will be eating the Friday night meal at someone else’s house, and it is difficult for the lady of the house to walk both ways. She may decide that she is not accepting Shabbos when she kindles the lights and then travel by automobile (obviously before Shabbos) to the home where they are eating the seudah.

How do men accept Shabbos?

Even when men kindle Shabbos lights, they usually do not accept Shabbos at that time, but during the davening. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 261:4) rules that reciting Borchu or Mizmor shir leyom haShabbos qualifies as accepting Shabbos. The Magen Avraham (ad locum) disagrees with the latter ruling, contending that people routinely do melachah after reciting Mizmor shir leyom haShabbos. This means that people do not consider reciting it to be a declaration that one is accepting Shabbos. The later authorities explain that, in the time of the Magen Avraham, people made an implied condition not to accept Shabbos when they said Mizmor shir leyom haShabbos, and that was why they continued to do melachah after reciting it. However, in the time of the later acharonim, such as the Pri Megadim, people accepted Shabbos upon reciting Mizmor shir and refrained from doing melachah from that point. Other authorities ruled that completing the song of Lecha Dodi, which closes with a welcoming of the Shabbos Queen, constitutes accepting Shabbos, and that, therefore, one is prohibited from doing melachah from then (Mishnah Berurah 261:31 quoting Derech Chachmah).

The early bird catches

How early may someone accept Shabbos and kindle lights? This question is already mentioned by the Gemara (Shabbos 23b) in the following passage:

Rav Yosef’s wife would delay lighting Shabbos lights until it was almost Shabbos. Rav Yosef admonished her, pointing out that in the Desert, the pillar of light that came at night arrived before the day ended. Thus, it is appropriate that the light for night should be kindled while it is still daytime.

Taking the admonition seriously, in a later week Rav Yosef’s rebbitzen decided to kindle the lights very early. An old man, possibly an incarnate of Eliyahu Hanavi (see Tosafos, Chullin 6a s.v. Ashkechei), told her that kindling too early is also not halachically correct (Shabbos 23b).

The Ran notes that the Gemara’s anecdote requires explanation. How close to Shabbos could Rebbitzen Yosef have been lighting that her husband felt it appropriate to correct her? She certainly did not kindle the lights at a time when it was questionably Shabbos, and, certainly, she also observed tosefes Shabbos correctly. If so, she was kindling at the correct time, so why was Rav Yosef admonishing her?

The Ran explains that Rebbitzen Yosef opined that kindling the lights is meant to sserve Shabbos and, as such, should be conducted as close to Shabbos as possible. In other words, although one should not perform any melachah during tosefes Shabbos, she mistakenly thought that kindling the Shabbos lights is an exception that could and should be done immediately before Shabbos. Rav Yosef corrected her, pointing out that tosefes Shabbos applies also to kindling the Shabbos lights.

Having accepted Rav Yosef’s admonition, she now felt that she should make sure to kindle her Shabbos lights before she finished her other last minute Shabbos preparations. This was also not correct – the kindling should be the last melachah activity performed before one accepts Shabbos.

How early is too early?

Some of the rishonim rule that one can kindle as early as plag haminchah, provided that, when doing so, one accepts upon himself the sanctity of Shabbos (Tur, Orach Chayim 267; Rabbeinu Yerucham, Tolados Adam Vechavah 12:2). Accepting Shabbos after kindling early is necessary in order to demonstrate that the kindling is for Shabbos. This is the ruling accepted by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 263:4) and later authorities.

When is plag haminchah? Plag haminchah is the earliest time of day that one may daven maariv. It is definitely before sunset — the Gemara explains that plag haminchah is 43/48 of the day. This means that if one divides the daylight part of the day into 48 quarter-hours, counting back 5 of these quarter-hours from the end of the day is plag haminchah.

When does the day begin and end?

There is a major dispute among authorities whether these hours are calculated from alos hashachar, halachic dawn, which is halachically the beginning of the day, to tzeis hakochavim, when the stars appear, or whether they are calculated from sunrise to sunset. Accepted contemporary practice follows the opinion that plag haminchah is measured from sunrise to sunset, which makes plag haminchah in the summer about 1½ hours before sunset (Levush, Orach Chayim 267; Gra, to Orach Chayim 459:2; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 261:10).

Why no kindling earlier?

Why is it prohibited to kindle the Shabbos lights before plag?

Rashi (Shabbos 23b) explains that if one kindles the lights too early, it is not noticeable that one is kindling the lights for Shabbos. This implies that the reason one cannot light Shabbos lights this early has nothing to do with accepting Shabbos early – one can accept Shabbos as early as one wants. The problem is that one who kindles Shabbos lights this early does not properly fulfill his mitzvah of kindling lights in honor of Shabbos. Thus, the Aruch Hashulchan (263:19) assumes that although one may not kindle Shabbos lights earlier than plag haminchah, someone who accepted Shabbos earlier is required to begin observing Shabbos.

However, other early authorities (Tur, Orach Chayim 267) imply that it is impossible to accept tosefes Shabbos earlier than plag haminchah, and this is the approach accepted by the Magen Avraham (261:10) and the Mishnah Berurah (261:25). In their opinion, if someone accepted Shabbos upon himself before plag haminchah, it has no effect.

An earlier authority seems to agree fully with the position of the Aruch Hashulchan. The Terumas Hadeshen, who lived in 14th century Austria, records the following question:

“In most communities, they daven maariv in the long summer days three or four hours before the stars appear. Is there any halachic basis for this practice, particularly since many talmidei chachamim follow it?”

The Terumas Hadeshen then endeavors to explain why communities davened maariv this early, suggesting that people could not wait until it got dark to eat the Shabbos meals. One way to avoid this would be to eat a meal before minchah, but this practice was not followed out of concern that people would make this into their Shabbos meal and not attend shul later. The Terumas Hadeshen notes that, precisely for this reason, many halachic authorities prohibit eating even a small meal before one has davened minchah, even if one eats the meal very early in the afternoon (after minchah gedolah). Because people found it difficult to eat so late on Friday evening, the custom developed of davening the Friday night Shabbos prayers very early. He then quotes a few authorities who held that this may not be done, but they did not stop the practice. He then recounts a story of a city, whose rav was one of the gedolei Yisrael, where they davened so early that, after davening and the seudah, there was ample time for the entire community to go for a walk on the bank of the local river, the Danube, by daylight and return home before dark! Although he does not provide a halachic basis to permit davening this early, nevertheless, he concludes that a talmid chacham may join the tzibur and daven with them, if he is unable to influence them to daven later.

There are some other curious questions about this practice of davening very early that the Terumas Hadeshen does not address:

How could they accept Shabbos before plag haminchah?

How could they kindle Shabbos lights before plag?

It seems that the Terumas Hadeshen held that, since they were accepting Shabbos immediately after kindling the lights, there is no problem with kindling the Shabbos lights early, or with accepting Shabbos this early.

Asking for help

At this point, we can address another of our opening questions: “If I accepted Shabbos early, may I ask my neighbor, who is beginning Shabbos at the regular time, to turn on a light?”

The Rashba (Shabbos 151a) rules that someone who already accepted Shabbos may ask someone who did not yet accept Shabbos to do melachah. Accepting Shabbos early does not forbid me from asking someone else to do work (Magen Avraham 263:30). The Magen Avraham (261:7) rules that if the entire community accepted Shabbos, one may no longer ask another Jew to do work for him, but he may ask a gentile to do work (see also Rema, Orach Chayim 261:1).

Some like it late

We are now ready to discuss the next question: “If all the shullen in my neighborhood make Shabbos early, am I obligated to do so?”

Some rishonim rule that once a community began davening maariv Friday night, all individuals in that community are obligated to observe Shabbos (Mordechai, Shabbos #298, quoting Rivam). This approach is followed by the Shulchan Aruch as normative halachah (Orach Chayim 263:12); however, the ruling is true only if every shul in the community has already accepted Shabbos, or if every shul that this person usually attends has already accepted Shabbos (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:38). Some authorities suggest that if everyone is accepting Shabbos early only because it is convenient, but not because they want to be more machmir, an individual may not be bound to accept Shabbos when they do (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:38).

Early hubby

If a husband davens at an early minyan, must his wife began observing Shabbos as soon as he does, or can she wait until he returns home from shul?

Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that the fact that a husband was mekabeil Shabbos does not require his wife to do so, just as his making a personal vow or oath is not binding on her (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 3:38; cf. Shu’t Shevet Halevi 7:35, who disagrees). He discusses, at length, whether it is permitted for her to do melachah activities for her husband after he was mekabeil Shabbos, and concludes that it is proper that she does not.

Conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited on Shabbos in order to provide a day of rest. This is incorrect, he points out, because the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melachah, which implies work with purpose and accomplishment. On Shabbos, we refrain from altering the world with our own creative acts and, instead, emphasize Hashem’s role (Shemos 20:11). We thereby acknowledge the true Builder and Creator of the world and all that it contains.

 

Rav Yehudah Hachassid and His Shidduchin II

quill and paperIn a previous article, we discussed the writings of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, who prohibited or advised against many potential marriages that are otherwise perfectly acceptable according to halachah. But first some background on the chassidei Ashkenaz.

Who was Rav Shmuel Hachassid?

Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s father, known as Rav Shmuel Hachassid, was a very righteous individual who was a great mekubal, one of the baalei Tosafos, and a highly-respected leader of twelfth century Ashkenazic Jewry. Because of his great levels of righteousness, Rav Shmuel Hachassid was also sometimes called Rav Shmuel Hakadosh or Rav Shmuel Hanavi.

Rav Shmuel Hachassid was born in Speyer, one of the bastions of Torah that then existed on the banks of the Rhine River. (People whose family name is Shapiro and its various pronunciations and spellings are probably descended from someone who lived in Speyer; you might be progeny of either Rav Shmuel or Rav Yehudah Hachassid.) Rav Shmuel was the rabbinic leader of the community in Speyer and the head of a yeshivah. He was also the repository of much kabbalistic knowledge, both oral and written, that had been handed down from the generations of great Ashkenazic leaders before him, including many great baalei kabbalah. He became the recognized leader of a scholarly movement whose members were called the Chassidei Ashkenaz, individuals who lived their lives in an other-worldly existence, devoted exclusively to Torah and growth in yiras shamayim. The lengthy Shir Hayichud, recited in many congregations in its entirety after davening on Kol Nidrei evening, is attributed to Rav Shmuel Hachassid.

One of Rav Shmuel’s sons was Rav Yehudah Hachassid, who was born in approximately 4910 (1150). Rav Yehudah Hachassid is also one of the baalei Tosafos, and is quoted several times in the Tosafos printed in the margins of our Gemara (for example, Tosafos, Bava Metzia 5b, s.v. Dechashid; Kesuvos 18b, s.v. Uvekulei). Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s students included a number of famous rishonim who are themselves baalei Tosafos, such as Rav Yitzchok Or Zarua, Rav Elazar ben Rav Yehudah (the Rokeach), Rav Moshe of Coucy (the Semag), and Rav Baruch ben Rav Yitzchok (the Sefer Haterumah).

Rav Yehudah Hachassid also continued his father’s role as the head of the Chassidei Ashkenaz. He followed what we would consider an ascetic relationship to this world. For example, he fasted all day the entire week, eating only in the evenings. His disciple, the Or Zarua, records that Rav Yehudah Hachassid, fasted two days Yom Kippur (Hilchos Yom Kippur, end of #281).

Rav Yehudah Hachassid also authored works on kabbalah and is commonly attributed as the author of the poem Anim Zemiros, sung in many shullen at the end of Shabbos davening. He was also the source of works that can be easily read by the layman, two of which, the Sefer Chassidim and the Tzavaas [the ethical will of] Rav Yehudah Hachassid, are the subjects of today’s article. The Sefer Chassidim includes halacha, minhag, mussar, and commentary on tefillah. This work is mentioned numerous times by the later halachic authorities, as are many of the instructions in his tzavaah. As we will soon discuss, there is some question as to whether he actually wrote the tzavaah or whether he transmitted its content orally and it was recorded by his children or disciples. Rav Yehudah Hachassid graduated to olam haba on Taanis Esther, 4977 (1217), in Regensburg, Germany.

The tzavaah of Rav Yehudah Hachassid

In his ethical will, Rav Yehudah Hachassid prohibits and/or advises against a vast array of practices for which he is the earliest, and sometimes the only, halachic source. Why did Rav Yehudah Hachassid prohibit these actions? Although we are not certain, because he offered no explanation, many later authorities assume that, in most instances, these were practices that Rav Yehudah Hachassid realized are dangerous because of kabbalistic reasons. Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi (the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, author of Shulchan Aruch Harav and Tanya) is quoted as having said that to understand one of Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s statements in his tzava’ah would require a work the size of the Shelah, a classic of halachah, kabbalah and musar that is hundreds of pages long.

Reasons for the injunctions

Although the considerations behind Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s rulings have been lost to us, several Acharonim proposed various reasons for one of his rulings, that a chosson and his father-in-law or a kallah and her mother-in-law should not share the same given name:

1) Some Acharonim maintain that the prohibitions are in order to avoid ayin hara. Due to the novelty, people would be more apt to talk about such a shidduch and cause an ayin hara (Chida, Peirush Lesefer Chassidim #477; Heishiv Moshe #19; Pri Hasadeh, vol. I, #69).

2) Others contend that if the kallah has the same name as the chosson’s mother, the chosson will be unable to fulfill the mitzvah of kibbud eim when his mother dies, since he will not be able to name a child after her (Maharil #17).

3) Another explanation is that it will cause a lack of respect towards the parents. If the chosson’s name is the same as the kallah’s father, she will inevitably use her husband’s name in her father’s presence (Even Haroshah #31).

The responsum of the Noda Biyehudah

In my earlier article, I mentioned the responsum of the Noda Biyehudah (Shu’t Even Ha’ezer II #79), who explains that the shidduchin that Rav Yehudah Hachassid discouraged are concerns only for his descendants. The Noda Biyehudah also holds that Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s concerns apply only to birth names or names given to sons at their bris, but do not apply to any name changes that take place afterwards. And most importantly, the Noda Biyehudah feels that it is more important to marry off one’s daughter to a talmid chacham than to be concerned about names.

Double whammy

The Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Even Ha’ezer, end of #116) was asked by Rav Shmuel, the av beis din of Balkan, concerning a highly scholarly and qualified bachur whose first name was the same as the father of the girl that was suggested, and whose mother carried the same name as the girl. The Chasam Sofer permitted this shidduch, providing two reasons not cited by the Noda Biyehudah:

The Gemara (Pesachim 110b) explains that sheidim, evil spirits, are concerned only about people who are afraid of them, but that someone not troubled by them will suffer no harm. The Chasam Sofer reasons that the prohibitions of Rav Yehudah Hachassid apply only to people who are concerned about them.

Other authorities accept this conclusion of the Chasam Sofer. For example, after providing an extensive discussion on all the rules of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, the Sdei Chemed (Volume 7, page 20) notes that when he assumed his position as the rav of the Crimea, he discovered that the local populace did not observe any of the rules of Rav Yehudah Hachassid. The Sdei Chemed, who himself was concerned about all of these rules, writes that he thought about mentioning these matters to his community. He subsequently decided against it, reasoning that no harm will come to someone who is not apprehensive.

Following this same approach, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that such a shidduch should be prevented only if the couple getting married is concerned that one of them shares a name with his or her future parent-in-law. However, if the marrying couple is not disturbed about violating the rules of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, one may proceed with the marriage, even if the parents are — the concern of a parent will not bring harm upon the couple (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Even Ha’ezer 1:4). Similarly, I found a different authority who rules that when the couple makes the shidduch themselves, there is no concern for the rules of Rav Yehudah Hachassid (Sdei Chemed Volume 7, page 21, quoting Heishiv Moshe).

It is reported that someone asked the Chazon Ish regarding a shidduch where the prospective kallah had the same name as the mother of the suggested young man. The Chazon Ish asked the prospective chosson whether he was apprehensive about this. When he responded that he was not at all concerned, the Chazon Ish told him that he could proceed (Pe’er Hador, vol. IV, pg. 90).

It is interesting to note that in another instance, someone asked the Chazon Ish about a situation where the prospective chosson had the same name as the prospective kallah’s father. The Chazon Ish ruled that as long as they do not live in the same city, they could go through with the shidduch. He explained that the whole reason beyond these rulings of Rav Yehuda Hachassid is ayin hara – people should not say “Here are the two Yankels.” However, if they live in different cities, people will not talk about them (Ma’aseh Ish pg. 215).

Others, however, view Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s prohibition differently. For example, some question whether a man whose mother is deceased may marry a woman who has the same name as his late mother. It would seem that, according to most of the reasons mentioned above, one may proceed with this shidduch. Nevertheless, some authorities are opposed, which indicates that they do not accept the reasons cited above (Kaf Hachayim, Yoreh Deah 116:127).

Two versions

Returning to the responsum of the Chasam Sofer, he mentions another reason to be lenient, which requires some explanation. Regarding the concern that a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, or a son-in-law and father-in-law not share the same name, we find that the two sources attributed to Rav Yehudah Hachassid, the Sefer Chassidim and the tzava’ah, quote different versions of the prohibition. Whereas the tzava’ah states that a man should not marry a woman whose father shares his name, and a woman should not marry a man whose mother shares her given name, the text in the Sefer Chassidim (Chapter 477) states that if a man married a woman named Rivkah whose son also married a woman named Rivkah, then the grandson (the son’s son) should not marry a girl named Rivkah. The version quoted in Sefer Chassidim seems unconcerned about a man marrying a woman who shares his mother’s name or about a woman marrying a man with her father’s name. The Chasam Sofer concludes that the tzava’ah of Rav Yehudah Hachassid should also be understood this way.

Similar to the comment of the Chasam Sofer, the Chachmas Odom (123:13) notes that Rav Yehudah Hachassid clearly meant the same in both places, and that the Sefer Chassidim is written more accurately. Therefore, these two great authorities rule that even Rav Yehudah Hachassid was never concerned about a woman marrying someone whose mother shares her name, or a man marrying a woman whose father shares his.

Other lenient reasons

Although these three authorities, the Noda Biyehudah, the Chasam Sofer and the Chachmas Odom, are basically not concerned with the commonly understood application of Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s tzava’ah, other authorities are concerned, but provide additional reasons and applications when the concerns of Rav Yehudah Hachassid do not apply. Some mention that one need not be concerned where the two parties spell their names differently, even when they pronounce the name the same way (quoted in Sdei Chemed, Volume 7, page 17). However, the Sdei Chemed (Volume 7, page 20) concludes that the spelling should make no difference: either way, one should be concerned.

Variances of the name

The Kaf Hachayim (Yoreh Deah 116:12) mentions a dispute whether there is a concern when the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law have somewhat different names. For example, may a woman named Rivkah Rachel marry a man whose mother’s name is Rachel, since their names are not identical? Some feel that this is relevant when the woman now being considered for the shidduch is called Rivkah, but does not provide any basis for lenience if, indeed, she uses Rachel regularly as part of her name. According to this opinion, if she chooses to add another name to avoid the concern of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, she should be called only by the new name (Kaf Hachayim, Yoreh Deah 116:126).

Similarly, some rule that if the son-in-law is known by two different names, some people calling him by one name and others by a different name, there is no concern if the potential father-in-law has one of these names (see Sdei Chemed Volume 7, pages 17).

On the other hand, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules there is concern only if the full given names of both the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law (or the father-in-law and son-in-law) are identical. Prevalent practice follows this approach. An example is that my rosh yeshivah Rav Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman, was not concerned that his daughter marry Rav Shmuel Yaakov Weinberg, notwithstanding that both father-in-law and son-in-law used the named Yaakov alone as their primary name.

Different English names

Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that if the father-in-law and son-in-law (or mother-in-law and daughter-in-law) have different English names, there is no concern, even if they share identical Hebrew names.

Changing the name

Some earlier authorities suggest that the chosson or the kallah change their name or add to it. For example, when someone asked the Chasam Sofer about having his daughter marry someone who shares his name, he advised them to have the chosson change his name (Pischei Teshuvah, Even Ha’ezer 2:7, in the name of the Kerem Shlomo).

Rav Moshe Feinstein accepted this approach of the Chasam Sofer in theory. However, in a responsum on the topic, he wrote not to rely on changing the name since, at the time and place that he wrote his teshuvah, people would continue to use the original name. A name change means that the person is now called by the new name.

Stricter approaches

There are, however, other authorities who are more concerned about violating the instructions of Rav Yehudah Hachassid and challenge or ignore the above heterim (quoted in Sdei Chemed Volume 7, pages 17 ff. ; Kaf Hachayim, Yoreh Deah 116:125).

In conclusion

I leave it to the individual to discuss with his or her posek whether or not to pursue a particular shidduch because of an identical name or a different concern raised by Rav Yehudah Hachassid. Of course, we all realize that the most important factor is davening, asking Hashem to provide the appropriate shidduch quickly.

Rav Yehudah Hachassid and His Shidduchin

quill and paperAt the end of our parsha, Yaakov is sent eastward to look for a shidduch. This provides an opportunity to discuss:

Rav Yehudah Hachassid and His Shidduchin

Question #1: A Shidduch Crisis

“My husband’s name is Chayim Shelomoh, and an excellent shidduch possibility was just suggested for my daughter. However, the bachur’s name was originally Shelomoh, but as a child, he was ill and they added the name Chayim before Shelomoh. May we proceed with this shidduch?”

Question #2: Must we turn down this shidduch?

“My wife’s name is Rivkah, and we were just suggested an excellent shidduch for my son, but the girl’s name is Esther Rivkah. Must we turn down the shidduch?”

Answer:

Both of these questions relate to rules that are not based on Talmudic sources, but on the writings of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, who prohibited or advised against many potential marriages that are, otherwise, perfectly acceptable according to halachah. But before we even discuss the writings of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, let us discover who he was and why his opinion carries so much weight.

Who was Rav Yehudah Hachassid?

Well, to complicate matters a bit, there were two people in Jewish history who were called Rav Yehudah Hachassid. These two individuals lived hundreds of years apart, and, to the best of my knowledge, had no known connection to one another, other than that they were both esteemed Ashkenazic leaders in their respective generations. The Rav Yehudah Hachassid of the seventeenth century, famed as the builder of a shul in the Old City of Jerusalem, now called the churva shul, spearheaded the first “modern” effort to establish an Ashkenazi community in the holy city. Although this failed attempt had political and practical ramifications that lasted until the middle of the twentieth century, I have never heard him blamed for the blocking of a potential shidduch.

On the other hand, the much earlier Rav Yehudah Hachassid, whose writings and rulings will be discussed in this article, was a great posek and mekubal, whose halachic decisions and advice have been extensively followed by both Ashkenazim and Sefardim.

Rav Yehudah Hachassid, who was born in approximately 4910 (1150), is quoted several times in the Tosafos printed in our Gemara (for example, Tosafos, Bava Metzia 5b, s.v. Dechashid and Kesuvos 18b, s.v. Uvekulei). Rav Yehudah’s students included a number of famous rishonim who are themselves Baalei Tosafos, such as the Or Zarua, the Rokeach, the Semag, and the Sefer Haterumah.

Rav Yehudah Hachassid was the head of a select group of mekubalim called the Chassidei Ashkenaz. He authored numerous works on kabbalah and was the author of the poem Anim Zemiros, sung in many shullen at the end of Shabbos davening. Two works of his are intended for use by the common laymen, the Sefer Chassidim and the Tzavaas [the ethical will of] Rav Yehudah Hachassid, and these mention the subject of today’s article.

The tzava’ah of Rav Yehudah Hachassid

I am not going to list everything in Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s tzava’ah, but, instead, will simply cite some of the practices that he prohibits.

A man should not marry a woman who has the same name as his mother, nor should he marry a woman whose father has the same name that he has. Rav Yehudah Hachassid closes by saying: if people violated these instructions, one of the parties with the name in common should change his/her name — perhaps this will provide some hope. He does not specify what the harm is or what the hope is for.

Two mechutanim should not have the same name.

Two mechutanim should not make two shidduchim, a son with a daughter and a daughter with a son.

One should not marry one’s niece, either his brother’s daughter or his sister’s daughter.

A father and son should not marry two sisters.

Two brothers should not marry two sisters, nor should they marry a mother and her daughter.

A stepbrother and a stepsister should not marry.

Two married brothers should not live in the same city.

Before we get everyone disturbed, I will share with you that many of these relationships prohibited (or advised against) by Rav Yehudah Hachassid are not recognized as binding by later authorities. For example, the Chofetz Chayim’s first rebbitzen was his step-sister: he married the daughter of his step-father, who had already married the Chofetz Chayim’s widowed mother. Similarly, I know of numerous instances in which two brothers married two sisters, without anyone being concerned about it. And the Tzemach Tzedek of Lubavitch mentions that one need not be concerned about pursuing a shidduch in which the fathers of the chosson and the kallah have the same given name (Shu’t Tzemach Tzedek, Even Ha’ezer #143).

Selective service

In most places, the only shidduchin-related rule of Rav Yehudah Hachassid that has been accepted is that a man not marry a woman who has the same given name as his mother, nor should a woman marry a man who has the same name as her father. Why is this rule more accepted than any of the others?

Early poskim note that the custom of being concerned about this was far more widespread than concern about the other prohibitions of Rav Yehudah Hachassid. They propose several reasons to explain why this is true.

One answer is because the Arizal was also concerned about a man marrying a woman whose name is the same as his mother. Yet, there is no evidence of the Ari or other authorities being concerned regarding the other rules of Rav Yehudah Hachassid (see Shu’t Mizmor Ledavid of Rav David Pardo, #116, quoted by Sdei Chemed, Volume 7, page 17; Shu’t Divrei Chayim, Even Ha’ezer #8).

Another possible reason is that the Chida writes that he, himself, saw problems result in the marriages of people who violated this specific prohibition of Rav Yehudah Hachassid.

Rav Chayim Sanzer adds that one should be concerned about this particular practice only because klal Yisroel has accepted as custom to pass up these marriages. To quote him: If the children of Israel are not prophets, they are descended from prophets, and there is an innate understanding that these shidduchin should not be made.

The responsum of the Noda Biyehudah

No discussion of the instructions of Rav Yehudah Hachassid is complete without mentioning a responsum of the Noda Biyehudah, the rav of Prague and posek hador of the eighteenth century. The Noda Biyehudah (Shu’t Even Ha’ezer II #79) discusses the following case: A shidduch was suggested for the sister-in-law of a certain Reb Dovid, a close talmid of the Noda Biyehudah, in which the proposed chosson had once had his name changed, because of illness, to the name of the girl’s father. The Noda Biyehudah replied to Reb Dovid that generally he does not discuss questions that are not based on sources in Talmud and authorities. Nevertheless, he writes that he will break his usual rules and answer the inquiry.

First, the Noda Biyehudah points out a very important halachic principle: No talmid chacham may dispute any halachic conclusion of the Gemara, whether he chooses to be lenient or stringent, and anyone who does is not to be considered a talmid chacham. Upon this basis, the Noda Biyehudah notes that we should question the entire tzava’ah of Rav Yehudah Hachassid, since the work forbids numerous practices that run counter to rulings of the Gemara. To quote the Noda Biyehudah, “We find things in Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s tzava’ah that are almost forbidden for us to hear.” The examples the Noda Biyehudah chooses include:

One should not marry one’s sister’s daughter. However, the Gemara (Yevamos 62b) rules that it is a mitzvah to do so.

Rav Yehudah Hachassid prohibited a father and son from marrying two sisters, yet we see that the great amora Rav Papa arranged the marriage of his son to his wife’s younger sister (Kesubos 52b).

Another example is that Rav Yehudah Hachassid writes that two brothers should not marry two sisters, yet the Gemara (Berachos 44a) writes approvingly of these marriages. Furthermore, the amora, Rav Chisda, arranged for his two daughters to marry two brothers, Rami bar Chamma and Ukva bar Chamma (ibid.).

Explaining Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s concern

The Noda Biyehudah continues: “However, out of esteem for Rav Yehudah Hachassid, we must explain that in his great holiness, he realized that the shidduchin he was discouraging would all be bad for his own descendants. Therefore, Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s comments do not conflict with the Gemara, since he was writing a special ruling for individuals that should not be applied to anyone else. Therefore, Reb Dovid does not need to be concerned about his sister-in-law proceeding with this shidduch.

The Noda Biyehudah presents an additional reason why Reb Dovid does not need to be concerned: Rav Yehudah Hachassid’s concerns apply only to birth names or names given to sons at their bris, but do not apply to any name changes that take place afterwards. The Noda Biyehudah rallies proofs that adding or changing a name because of illness can only help a person and cannot hurt. In addition, the Noda Biyehudah reasons that if someone was an appropriate shidduch because of his birth name, changing or adding to his name cannot now make this shidduch prohibited.

Marry a talmid chacham

Aside from the other reasons why the Noda Biyehudah feels that this shidduch can proceed, he adds another rule: It is more important for someone to marry off his daughter to a talmid chacham, which the Gemara says is the most important thing to look for in a shidduch, than to worry oneself about names, a concern that has no source in the Gemara.

At this point, let us examine one of our opening questions:

My husband’s name is Chayim Shelomoh, and a shidduch was just suggested for my daughter of a bachur whose name was originally Shelomoh, but as a child, he was ill, and they added the name Chayim before Shelomoh. May we proceed with this shidduch?

According to the Noda Biyehudah, one may proceed with the shidduch, even if the younger Chayim Shelomoh does not qualify as a talmid chacham and even if they are descended from Rav Yehudah Hachassid, since the name Chayim was not part of his birth name.

Stricter approaches

On the other hand, there are other authorities who are more concerned about violating the instructions of Rav Yehudah Hachassid and do not mention any of the above heterim (quoted in Sdei Chemed Volume 7, pages 17- 20; Kaf Hachayim, Yoreh Deah 116:125). These authorities supply a variety of reasons why the arguments of the Noda Biyehudah do not apply. As far as the Noda Biyehudah’s statement that Rav Yehudah Hachassid could not have banned that which is expressly permitted, or even recommended, in the Gemara as a mitzvah, some respond that, although at the time of the Gemara there was no need to be concerned about the kabbalistic problems that these concerns may involve, our physical world has changed (nishtaneh hateva), and there is therefore, currently, a concern of ayin hora (quoted by Sdei Chemed page 19).

In conclusion

I leave it to the individual to discuss with his or her posek whether or not to pursue a particular shidduch because of an identical name or one of the other concerns raised by Rav Yehudah Hachassid. Of course, we all realize that the most important factor in finding a shidduch is to daven that Hashem provide the appropriate shidduch in the right time.

For the continuation of this discussion, see part II of this article.

 

The Numbers Game

Because this article explains some basics of how Torah is taught by Chazal, I think it is appropriate to the week of Shavuos.

Question #1: Pie r squared

Yanki is supposed to be watching his weight and therefore needs to figure out how many calories are in the pie he beholds. To figure out how big the pie is, he measures the diameter of the pie, and divides it in half to get the length of its radius. He then multiplies the length of the radius by itself to get “r squared,” and multiplies the result by three so that he knows the area of the pie’s surface. Is there anything wrong with his calculation?

Question #2: Puzzled by the pasuk

“How can the pesukim tell us that the relationship between the circumference of a circle to its diameter is three-to-one, when simply taking a string and measuring around it demonstrates that it is noticeably longer?”

Question #3: Performing mitzvos accurately

“How accurate a calculation must I make when determining the size of an item to be used for a mitzvah?”

Introduction

In numerous places, both Tanach and Chazal approximate certain mathematical values, such as evaluating the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter as three to one. The problem is that we can demonstrate mathematically that the ratio is greater than three and is almost 3 1/7. This leads to the following questions:

(1) Why would Chazal calculate using inaccurate approximations?

(2) When making halachic calculations, may we rely on these estimates, or do we need to be mathematically more accurate?

(3) A corollary question is: when providing an estimate, one must allow for a margin of error. Does halachah require a margin of error, and, if so, how much?

The Slide Rule versus the Calculator

Let me begin our discussion with a modern analogy, if something I remember can still be considered “modern.” When I first studied sophisticated mathematical estimates, I learned to use a slide rule, which today is as valuable to an engineer as an abacus. Relative to the calculator, a slide rule does not provide accurate measurements, and someone using a slide rule must allow a fairly significant margin of error in one direction or the other, depending on the situation.

Today, complex computations are made with calculators, which provide far more accurate results that can be rounded off, as necessary, to the nearest tenth, millionth, quadrillionth or smaller. Of course, using a calculator still requires one to round upward or downward, but because it is much more precise, the margin of error is greatly reduced.

How Irrational Are You?

Numerous halachic questions require mathematical calculations, involving what we call “irrational numbers.” An irrational number means one that cannot be expressed in fractional notation. Another way of explaining an irrational number is that its value can never be calculated totally accurately, but can only be estimated.

The two most common examples of irrational numbers that show up in Chazal are:

(1) Pi

The ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, which we are used to calling by the Greek letter ∏ (pronounced like the word “pie,” and spelled in English “pi”). Since the 19th century, the letter pi has been used to represent this number, because the Greek word for peripheryis peripherion, which begins with the letter ∏. Hundreds of years earlier, the Rambam (Commentary to the Mishnah, Eruvin 1:5) noted that the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter is an irrational number that can only be approximated, and that the scientists of his era used an estimate of 3 and 1/7, which is actually slightly greater than the value of ∏. The Rambam explains that since there is no accurate ratio, Chazal used a round number, three, for this calculation.

(2) The diagonal of a square

The length of a diagonal of a square, which is equal to the side of the square multiplied by the square root of two (√2). Chazal calculated the length of a diagonal of a square to be 1 and 2/5 times its side, which is slightly smaller than the value of √2. (Another way of expressing this idea is that the ratio between the diagonal and the side is 7:5.) The fact that Chazal’s figuring is somewhat smaller than the mathematical reality is already proved by Tosafos (Sukkah 8a s.v. kol).

Since both pi and the square root of two are irrational numbers, they can only be estimated, but can never be calculated with absolute accuracy.

Based on the above-quoted statement of the Rambam, we can already address one of our earlier questions: “Why would Chazal calculate using inaccurate approximations?” The answer is that any computation of the correlation of the circumference of a circle to its diameter will be an estimate. The only question is how accurate must this estimate be for the purpose at hand.

Chazal or Tanach?

Although the Rambam attributes the rounding of pi to Chazal, in actuality, there are sources in Tanach that calculate the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter as three-to-one. Both in Melachim (I 7:23) and again in Divrei Hayamim (II 4:2), Tanach teaches that the Yam shel Shlomoh, the large, round pool or mikveh that was built in the first Beis Hamikdash, was thirty amos in circumference and ten amos in diameter, which provides a ratio of circumference to diameter of three-to-one. Thus, we can ask a question of the Rambam: Why does he attribute this ratio to Chazal, rather than the source for Chazal’s calculation, the pesukim?

In fact, the early commentaries to these verses already ask how the verse can make a calculation that we know is not accurate. The Ralbag suggests two options: either that the numbers used are intended to be a very broad estimate, or, alternatively, that the diameter is measured from the external dimensions of the mikveh, whereas the circumference is measured from its inside, which makes the estimate closer to mathematical reality.

According to the second approach of the Ralbag, no Biblical source uses an estimate of three-to-one as a substitute for pi. This will explain why the Rambam attributed the estimation of pi as three to Chazal, rather than to the Tanach. The Rambam was fully aware that one could interpret the verses according to the second approach of the Ralbag, in which case, there is no proof from the verse. He, therefore, attributed this estimate to Chazal.

Gemara Eruvin

The Ralbag’s approach reflects an earlier passage of Gemara. The Mishnah in Eruvin (13b) states that if the circumference of a pole is three tefachim, its diameter is one tefach, which means that the Mishnah assumes a ratio of three-to-one. The Gemara questions how the Mishnah knows that the ratio is three-to-one, and then draws proof from the above-quoted verse that the Yam shel Shlomoh was thirty amos around and ten amos across. The Gemara then debates whether the calculations of the Yam shel Shlomoh indeed result in a ratio of three-to-one, because one must also include the thickness of the poolitself, which offsets the computation. The Gemara eventually concludes that the verse was calculating from the inside of the pool, not its outside, and therefore the thickness of the pool’s containing wall is not included in the calculation (Eruvin 14a).

Nevertheless, this Gemara’s discussion leaves the mathematician dissatisfied, a question already noted by Tosafos. If the internal diameter of the Yam shel Shlomoh was ten amos, its circumference must have been greater than thirty amos, and if its circumference was thirty amos, then its internal diameter must have been less than ten amos.

A Different Question

The Rosh, in his responsa, is bothered by a different question, based on Talmudic logic rather than on mathematical calculation. He finds the Gemara’s question requesting proof for the ratio between a circle’s circumference and its diameter to be odd. The ratio between a circle’s circumference and its diameter is a value that one should calculate. By its nature, this is not a question that requires a Biblical proof or source.

In the literature that we have received from the Rosh, he asks this question in two different places. In his responsa (Shu’t HaRosh 2:19), we find a letter that he wrote to the Rashba, in which he asked the Rashba a series of questions that the Rosh notes bother him tremendously, and to whom he has no one else to turn for an answer. One of the questions the Rosh asks is: “Why does the Gemara ask for a Biblical source for a mathematical calculation?”

It is curious to note that a later commentary mentions that, in all the considerable literature that we have received from the Rashba, we have no recorded answer of the Rashba to this question of the Rosh (Cheishek Shlomoh to Eruvin 14a).

Another Comment of the Rosh

The Tosafos HaRosh commentary to Eruvin, which was published for the first time relatively recently, is the second place where the Rosh asks why the Gemara wanted a Biblical source for a mathematical calculation.  There, the Rosh provides an answer to this question:  Since the calculation of three-to-one is not accurate, the Gemara wanted a biblical source as proof that we are permitted to rely on this estimate.

(The Cheishek Shlomoh, whom I quoted above, provides the same answer to this question as does the Rosh in his Tosafos. The Cheishek Shlomoh never saw the Tosafos HaRosh, which had not yet been printed in his day.)

Curiosity about the Tosafos HaRosh

There is an interesting historical point that can presumably be derived from the fact that, in the Tosafos HaRosh, the Rosh answers the question that he raised and accredits this answer to himself. This should be able to prove which work the Rosh had written earlier, and also whether he ever received an answer to his question from the Rashba. This analysis is based on the following question: Why did the Rosh cite an answer in his Tosafos¸but not in his responsum, which was addressed as a question to the Rashba. There are three obvious possibilities:

(1) Although the Rosh wrote this answer in his Tosafos, he was dissatisfied with it, and therefore wrote a question to the Rashba. I would reject this answer because, if it is true, then, in his correspondence to the Rashba, the Rosh would have mentioned this answer and his reason for rejecting it.

(2) The Rosh indeed received an answer, either this one or a different answer, from the Rashba. I reject this approach also, because, were it true, the Rosh would have quoted the Rashba’s answer in his Tosafos and, if need be, discussed it.

(3) Therefore, I conclude that the Rosh, indeed, never received an answer to the question he asked of the Rashba and subsequently reached his own conclusion as to how to answer the question, which he then recorded in the Tosafos HaRosh. This would lead us to conclude that the Tosafos HaRosh was written later in his life than his responsa, or, at least, this responsum.

Mathematical Accuracy

At this point, we can address one of earlier questions.When making halachic calculations, may we rely on these estimates, or do we need to be mathematically more accurate? We might be able to prove this point by noting something in the Mishnah in Eruvin quoted above. The Mishnah there ruled that, under certain circumstances, an area that is fully enclosed on three of its sides and has a beam a tefach wide above the fourth side is considered halachically fully enclosed, and one may carry inside it. The Mishnah then proceeds to explain that if the beam is round and has a circumference of three tefachim, one may carry inside the area because, based on the calculation that the relationship of its circumference to its diameter is three-to-one, the beam is considered to be a tefach-wide. However, as the Rambam notes, a beam that has a circumference of three tefachim is actually less than a tefach in diameter, and therefore one should not be permitted to carry in this area!

The Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chayim 363:22; Yoreh Deah 30:13) notes this problem and concludes that one may carry in this area. He contends that this is exactly what the Gemara was asking when it requested Scriptural proof for a mathematical calculation. “Upon what halachic basis may we be lenient in using this estimate of three-to-one, when this will permit carrying in an area in which the beam is less than a tefach wide? The answer is that this is a halachah that we derive from the verse.”

To clarify this concept, the Chazon Ish notes that the purpose of mitzvos is to draw us nearer to Hashem, to accept His reign, and to be meticulously careful in observing His laws. However, none of this is conflicted when the Torah teaches that we may use certain calculations, even if they are not completely mathematically accurate. In this instance, relying on these estimates is exactly what the Torah requires (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 138:4). As expressed by a different author, the Gemara (Eruvin 4a; Sukkah 5b) teaches that the measurements, the shiurim, required to fulfill mitzvos are all halachah lemoshe misinai, laws that Moshe Rabbeinu received as a mesorah on Har Sinai. Similarly, these estimates of irrational numbers mentioned above are all halachah lemoshe misinai that one may rely upon to fulfill mitzvos, whether or not they are mathematically accurate. The same Torah takes these calculations into consideration when instructing us which dimensions are required in order to fulfill specific mitzvos (Shu’t Tashbeitz 1:165).

In the context of a different halachah in the laws of Eruvin, the Mishnah Berurah makes a similar statement, contending that we can rely on Chazal’s estimates, even when the result is lenient. However, the Mishnah Berurah there vacillates a bit in his conclusion, ruling that one can certainly rely on this when the issue is a rabbinic concern (Shaar Hatziyun 372:18). In a responsum, Rav Moshe Feinstein questions why the Mishnah Berurah limits relying on this approach, and Rav Moshe rules unequivocally that one may rely on these estimates even when it involves leniency in de’oraysa laws (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah Volume3 #120:5).

How Straight Are My Tefillin?

Personally, I find the context of Rav Moshe’s teshuvah very interesting. There is a halacha lemoshe misinai that requires that the boxes of the tefillin, the batim, must be perfectly square. Rav Moshe was asked whether there is a halachic preference to use scientific measuring equipment to determine that one’s tefillin are perfectly square. Rav Moshe rules that there is neither a reason nor a hiddur in measuring the tefillin squareness this accurately. Since Chazal have used the calculation of 1.4 or a ratio of 7:5, which we know is an estimate, to determine the correct diagonal of a square, there is no requirement to make one’s tefillin squarer than this, and it is perfectly fine simply to measure the length of each of the sides of one’s tefillin and its two diagonals to ascertain that the ratio between the diagonal and the side is 7:5.

In the above-cited responsum, Rav Moshe notes that he had heard that the Brisker Rav, Rav Yitzchak Zeev Soloveichek, had ruled that it was preferable to check one’s tefillin in the most scientific method available. Rav Moshe writes that he finds this suggestion very strange and disputes its being halachically correct (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah Volume3 #120:5).

When making halachic calculations, may we rely on these estimates, or do we need to be mathematically more accurate?” The answer is that, indeed, the purpose of Chazal’s making these estimates was that observing halachah does not require that these calculations be mathematically precise, provided they meet the criteria that the halachah established.

An Alternate Approach

Although the majority of late authorities conclude that the calculations of Chazal are, indeed, part of the halachos of shiurim, this is not a universally-held position. The Tashbeitz, a rishon, wrote a lengthy responsum on the topic, in which he presents two ways to explain why Chazal used estimates that are not precisely accurate. His first approach reaches the same conclusion as we have already found in the later poskim, that these measurements are included within the halachos of shiurim that are part of the halachah lemoshe misinai.

The second approach of the Tashbeitz, however, differs with the above-mentioned halachic conclusion. In his second approach, he contends that all the above estimates were meant for pedagogic, but not halachic purposes. The rounding of pi to three and the diagonal of a square to 1.4 were provided to make the material easily comprehensible to all students, since every individual is required to know the entire Torah. Thus, when Chazal used these estimates in calculating the laws, their intent was to enable the average student to comprehend the halachic material, not to provide the most accurate interpretation. When an actual halachic calculation is made, it must be totally accurate. Any halachic authority involved would realize that he must use a highly accurate mathematical computation and then round either upward or downward as necessary for the specific application. (A similar position is held by Chiddushim Uviurim, Ohalos 5:6.)

Conclusion

Certainly, the majority of late halachic opinions conclude that the estimates of Chazal are meant to be halachically definitive and not simply pedagogic in nature. However, I leave it to the individual reader to ask his or her posek what to do when a practical question presents itself.

 

Essentials of Tochachah

Question #1: Cross-gender Tochachah

“The Mishnah states that a man should not converse unnecessarily with a woman. At my workplace, there is a girl who is ostensibly observant, but I see inconsistencies in her observance level. Am I supposed to try to help her become more committed?”

Question #2: Ignored Admonition

“Is there a mitzvah to admonish someone when I know that he will ignore me?”

Question #3: Admonisher or Enemy?

“I know that there is a mitzvah to be mochiach, but I am always concerned that I will make these people into my enemies. Should I be concerned?”

Answer:

In this week’s parshah, Yosef reveals himself to his brothers, by saying the immortal words, ani Yosef, ha’od avi chai? “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?” According to many commentaries (Ha’amek Davar, based on Chagigah 4b), Yosef intended these words as admonition, tochachah, to his brothers: Why are you suddenly concerned about how your father will react to Binyomin’s disappearance, when you were not concerned how he would react to my disappearance?[1] This provides an excellent opportunity to discuss the laws of tochachah, the requirement to reprove someone for misbehavior, a frequently misunderstood mitzvah.

The underlying principle of tochachah is the realization that fulfilling Hashem’s mitzvos is not merely an individual pursuit – it is a responsibility that I share with all of Klal Yisroel (see Sefer Hamitzvos #205). In explaining the reason for the mitzvah of tochachah, the Shaarei Teshuvah (3:19) notes that a devoted servant or employee performs his own work diligently and also tries to see that his co-workers do their jobs conscientiously. We are all members of the same people and share a common, collective mission.

The mitzvah of tochachah applies whether the sin perpetrated is between man and his fellowman or whether it is between man and Hashem (Sefer Hachinuch #239). Furthermore, the mitzvah applies equally to men and women – both have a requirement to be mochiach, and both should be admonished when they violate the Torah (Sefer Hachinuch #239). In addition, tochachah is a mitzvah that one should fulfill cross-gender; that is, a man is required to be mochiach a woman, and a woman is required to be mochichah a man. We can demonstrate this principle through the following passage:

Eili and Channah

The pasuk describes how Channah went to Shiloh, the location of the Mishkan, at the time the primary religious headquarters of the Jewish people, and prayed to Hashem that she merit conceiving and bearing a child. She prayed at great length to Hashem, and Eili was watching her mouth. Channah spoke in an undertone, with only her lips moving but her voice inaudible, and Eili thought that she was intoxicated. So, Eili told her, “For how long will you continue to be intoxicated? Remove your wine from yourself!” Channah responded, saying, “No, my lord, I am a woman who is greatly distressed. Wine and other intoxicating beverages I have not imbibed. I am pouring out my soul before Hashem (Shmuel I, 1:12-15).

Based on Eili’s reproof of Channah, the Gemara derives that the mitzvah of tochachah includes not only admonishing someone for sinning, but even for inappropriate behavior that is not sinful (Brachos 31b, as explained by Tosafos ad loc.) After all, Eili was admonishing her not for doing something specifically sinful, but for behaving in an inappropriate manner.

The cardinal rule of tochachah

The most basic rule of tochachah is that the mochiach, the person who is reproving, must truly care for the offender. Being sincerely concerned about the other person’s welfare is a condition which must be met, if the reproof is to be successful. Thus, tochachah is an extension of Ahavas Yisroel, loving our fellow Jew. The Rambam (Hilchos Dei’os 6:7) writes that the mochiach should explain that he is helping the offender earn a greater share in olam haba. To quote him: “One who sees his friend sinning or following a lifestyle that is not good has a mitzvah to influence him to return to the proper way and to inform him that he is harming himself… The one who rebukes must do so privately, with a pleasant manner and a soft voice.”

So, how do I influence someone if I do not love him? The answer is that I am required to teach myself to love him, both to observe the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisroel and in order to fulfill the mitzvah of tochachah.

That tochachah must be performed in a pleasant manner is again borne out in the following Talmudic passage: the Mishnah (Shabbos 34a) rules that shortly before Shabbos begins, a man is required to ask his family members whether all maasros and challah portions have been separated and whether the eruv has been set up. He then instructs them to kindle the lights in honor of Shabbos. The Gemara makes a point of noting that one should say all these things in a soft voice. These instructions are, in a way, very similar to admonishing one’s family members.

One size does not fit all

Prior to admonishing someone, the mochiach should analyze carefully what will be the most effective way to influence the offender. The tochachah should be tailor-made to the person receiving it and presented in a way that it is most likely to influence him or her to change. One should use stories, parables, and/or logical proofs, depending on what will speak most convincingly to the heart of the person one seeks to persuade (Sefer Chassidim #5).

Example:

Yitzchak is aware that he is required to influence his next-door neighbor, Benny, to be more observant. Yitzchak realizes that, to draw Benny closer to mitzvos, Yitzchak must sincerely care about him. Thus, Yitzchak’s first step is to truly care for Benny and to use every opportunity to develop a friendship. Once Benny feels that Yitzchak truly cares, he will be open to listening to what his friend has to say. At this point, Yitzchak can begin to explain the benefits Benny reaps by observing mitzvos carefully.

We can now understand the following, somewhat rhetorical, declaration of the Gemara: Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah said: I would be astounded to learn that there is anyone in our generation who knows how to admonish” (Arachin 16b).

Notwithstanding this observation, the halachic authorities rule that there is still a mitzvah of tochachah, and that one is required to strive to observe it (see Le’reiacha Kamocha pg. 286, quoting numerous authorities).

It is axiomatic that admonishing someone should not embarrass him (Arachin 16b; Toras Kohanim to Parshas Kedoshim). The recipient of the tochachah must be taught that it is in his best interest to improve, something that cannot usually be accomplished in an antagonistic interaction.

On the other hand…

Whoever has the ability to protest the misdeeds of members of his household and fails to do so is accountable for what they have done. The same is true for someone who could protest the misdeeds of the residents of his city and even the entire world and fails to do so. Therefore, the household of the Exilarch (Reish Galusa) is accountable for the misdeeds of the entire world (Shabbos 54b). Similarly, the entire Jewish people were punished in the days of Yehoshua for the crime of one individual, Achan (Yehoshua 22:20). Again, we find that the Kohen Gadol was responsible for the entire Jewish people. If one man sins, the entire nation will be punished, because of their failure to reproach him (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:72).

However, someone who admonished the evildoer appropriately has fulfilled the mitzvah of tochachah and will not be punished for the sinner’s evil deeds (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:72; Sefer Chasidim #5). To quote the Navi, Yechezkel: Because you warned the evildoer to repent from his way, even though he did not repent – he will die for his sin, but you have saved your own life (Yechezkel 33:9).

Tochachah that will be ignored

However, the halachah is that when it is clear that a sinner will ignore any reprimand, one should not attempt to admonish him, as it says in Mishlei (9, 8): Do not rebuke a scoffer, lest he come to hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. As the Gemara expresses this idea: Just as it is a mitzvah to say something that will be heeded, so it is a mitzvah to refrain from saying that which will be disregarded (Yevamos 65b). In these instances, censure will cause the evildoer to sin more, rather than to do teshuvah, and, therefore, it must be avoided.

Who qualifies as a scoffer?

This question is discussed in a different passage of Gemara (Shabbos 55a), where we find the following conversation:

Rabbi Zeira said to Rabbi Simon: “The master should chastise the members of the Reish Galusa’s household.”

Rabbi Simon responded: “They will not listen to me.”

To this, Rabbi Zeira retorted: “Even if they will not listen, admonish them.”

Rabbi Zeira then quoted an Aggadic passage, in which a conversation transpired between Midas Hadin, the attribute of justice, and Hashem. At one point in this “conversation,” Midas Hadin challenged Hashem to punish the righteous for not protesting the evildoings of the wicked. Hashem answered: “I know for certain that even had the righteous protested, the wicked would not have listened.” To this, Midas Hadin retorted: “You knew that the wicked would not have listened. But how did the righteous people know?” And since the righteous had no way of knowing that the evil would not listen, they should be punished for not having attempted to influence them.

We can therefore conclude that only when it is absolutely certain that the sinner will not listen is there no mitzvah either to rebuke or to protest. However, as long as the possibility exists that the sinner might listen, one is required to rebuke him.

Mutav sheyihyu shogagin

There are other instances when one should not rebuke someone who is sinning. This is when one is certain that the sinner will not change after being admonished and, also, he may not know that the activity is forbidden (Sefer Chasidim #413). This halachic status is called Mutav sheyihyu shogagin ve’al yihyu meizidin, “Better that they sin out of ignorance than that they become intentional sinners” (Beitzah 30a; Bava Basra 60b). For brevity’s sake I will refer to this status as “mutav.”

In this situation, the tochachah will probably accomplish only that the person will now be sinning intentionally, instead of out of a lack of knowledge. Since the result of the reproach is not constructive, it should be avoided.

The law of mutav, better that they sin unintentionally than intentionally, is true even when the prohibition is quite clear and could easily be discovered by the sinner. In other words, the sinner is considered shogeig, uninformed that what he is doing is forbidden, only because he does not want to know the truth. For example, even when all halachic authorities discuss the matter and prohibit the activity, the sinner is still considered one who acted out of ignorance rather than with intent. One should avoid telling him of his error when one assesses that knowledge of the sin will not affect his behavior.

This background allows us to understand a passage of Gemara that otherwise seems extremely strange:

A person should always live in the place where his rebbe does, for as long as Shimi ben Geira [Shlomoh Hamelech’s rebbe] was alive, Shlomoh did not marry the daughter of Pharoah. [Rashi notes that the verse mentions Shlomoh marrying Pharoah’s daughter immediately after it mentions Shimi’s death, see Melachim I, 2:46 – 3:1.] However, there is a beraysa that says that one should not live in the place of his rebbe. [Thus, we have two halachic statements that seem to say diametrically opposite ideas.] These two statements do not disagree. One is discussing someone who listens to the rebuke of his rebbe and therefore being proximate to his rebbe will prevent him from sinning. The Beraysa is discussing someone who does not listen to his rebbe (Brachos 8a).

As Rashi explains, someone who does not listen to his rebbe is better living distant from his rebbe, so that he is considered negligent when he does not hear his rebbe’s admonition. This is less severe than someone who ignores the admonitions. The latter person will become an intentional sinner when he ignores his rebbe’s admonition. The rule of mutav applies notwithstanding his having moved a distance from his rebbe so as not to be reproached for this misdeed!

Probably won’t listen

Should one reproach an ill-doer when you know that he probably will not listen? The halachah of mutav applies only when one is certain that the offending party will not listen. When one thinks that he will probably not listen, but it is not certain, one is required to admonish the offender (Tosafos, Bava Basra 60b s.v. Mutav).

We will continue our discussion about the mitzvah of tochachah next week.


[1] For a halachic explanation of the sale of Yosef, see the chapter on this topic in my book From Buffalo Burgers to Monetary Mysteries.

Some Light Chanukah Questions

Question #1: My sister invited our family for Shabbos Chanukah, and we will be sleeping at her neighbor’s house. Where do we set up the menorahs, particularly since I do not even know the neighbor?

Question #2: My husband has a late meeting at work tonight and will not be home until very late. What should we do about kindling Chanukah lights?

Question #3: I will be attending a wedding during Chanukah that requires me to leave my house well before lighting time, and I will not return until very late. Can I kindle at the wedding, just like the lighting that takes place in shul?

Question #4: I will be spending part of Chanukah in a hotel. Where should I kindle my menorah?

SOME BASICS

Each individual has a requirement to light Chanukah lights, or to have an agent kindle the lights for him (see Rambam, Hilchos Chanukah 3:4). In places where the custom is that the entire household lights only one menorah, which is the predominant practice among Sefardim, the person who kindles functions as an agent for the rest of the family and the guests. (However, cf. Minchas Shelomoh 2:58:41 and 42, who understands this halacha differently.) Even in places where the custom is that each individual kindles his own menorah, as is common Ashkenazic practice,  married women do not usually light, and most people have the custom that single girls do not, either (see Chasam Sofer, Shabbos 21b s.v. vehamehadrin, Elyah Rabbah 671:3, and Mikra’ei Kodesh #14 who explain reasons for this practice). In these instances, the male head of household kindles on behalf of his wife and daughters. A guest visiting a family for Chanukah can fulfill his or her obligation by contributing a token amount to purchase part of the candles or oil. By doing this, the guest becomes a partner in the Chanukah lights and now fulfills his mitzvah when the host kindles them. An alternative way to become a partial owner of the Chanukah lights is for the host to direct the guest to pick up some of the oil or candles and thereby become a partial owner.

GUEST WHO IS EATING IN ONE HOUSE AND SLEEPING IN ANOTHER

If someone is a guest and is eating at one house during Chanukah, but sleeping in a different house, where should he light the menorah?

One should kindle where he is eating (Rema 677:1). Therefore, in this situation, the place where one eats his meals is his primary “home.”

Many poskim contend that in Eretz Yisroel, the answer to this question depends on additional factors, including whether anyone else is staying in the house where the guest is sleeping. In their opinion, if no one else is kindling a menorah where the guest is sleeping, he should kindle the menorah there. Otherwise, he should kindle where he is eating.

The reason for this difference is that, in Eretz Yisroel, where the custom is to light outdoors when practical, someone walking through the street expects to find a menorah lit at every house. Thus, there is a responsibility to be certain that a menorah is kindled in every house that is occupied. In chutz la’aretz, since the menorah does not need to be visible outdoors to fulfill the mitzvah, someone walking outside the house and not seeing a lit menorah will simply assume that someone kindled indoors. Therefore, one does not need to make sure that every house has a lit menorah.

Similarly, if one is using two houses, in Eretz Yisroel he should light a menorah in each of them, although he should recite only one bracha; in chutz la’aretz he does not need to kindle a menorah in each house.

I can now answer the first question I asked above: If someone will be eating at one house and sleeping in another, where should he kindle the menorah? The answer is that in chutz la’aretz, he should kindle where he will be eating. In Eretz Yisroel, other factors may be involved, and one should ask a shaylah.

If a person spends Shabbos at someone else’s home, many poskim contend that one may kindle the menorah there on Motza’ei Shabbos before leaving (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:391). Some poskim suggest that if one does this, he should not leave immediately after lighting, but should spend some time, preferably a half-hour, appreciating the lights before leaving (see Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:394).

Question #2: My husband has a late meeting at work tonight and will not be home until very late. What should we do about kindling Chanukah lights?

To answer this question, we need to discuss two issues. The first is:

WHEN IS THE OPTIMAL TIME TO KINDLE THE MENORAH?

Early poskim have a dispute concerning when is the optimal time to kindle the Chanukah lights. According to the Gra, the best time is immediately after sunset, whereas most Rishonim rule that it is preferable to kindle at nightfall, or shortly before.

The usually accepted approaches are to kindle sometime after sunset but before it is fully dark. Thus, Rav Moshe Feinstein kindled the menorah ten minutes after sunset, the Chazon Ish lit his menorah twenty minutes after sunset, while others contend that the optimal time to light the menorah is twenty-five minutes after sunset.

UNTIL WHAT TIME CAN ONE KINDLE THE MENORAH?

At the time of the Gemara, one fulfilled the mitzvah of lighting menorah only if one lit within a half-hour of the earliest time for lighting (Shabbos 21b; Shulchan Aruch 672:2). This was because the focus of lighting the menorah was to publicize the miracle to people in the street. Since, in the days of Chazal, the streets were empty shortly after dark, there was no longer any mitzvah of kindling Chanukah lights half an hour later.

Today, the pirsumei nisa (publicizing the miracle) is primarily for the members of the household, and therefore many poskim hold that it is not essential to kindle the menorah immediately when it begins to get dark, and one may kindle later (see Tosafos, Shabbos 21b s.v. de’ei). Nevertheless, because this halacha is disputed, one should strive to kindle at the optimal time, which is close to twilight, as we mentioned above. In addition, there is also a halachic problem with working before one performs the mitzvah, similar to other mitzvos, such as bedikas chometz or hearing megillah, where it is prohibited to work or eat before fulfilling the mitzvah (Shu’t Maharshal #85; Mishnah Berurah 672:10; Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:395:4). Someone who missed lighting menorah at the proper time because of extenuating circumstances should kindle his menorah as soon as his family is assembled at home (Rema 672:2 and Mishnah Berurah ad loc.).

An alternative method can be followed when a husband is delayed. The husband can arrange to have a member of the household, such as his wife, light at the optimal time as his agent (Mishnah Berurah 675:9; Teshuvos Vehanhagos 4:170). If he follows this approach, he does not need to light when he arrives home later, and if he does light, he should not recite the bracha of lehadlik ner shel Chanuka. Alternatively, the wife can light at the proper time without the husband being present, and the husband can light when he gets home. If one follows the latter approach, the husband and wife are no longer functioning as agents for one another, as they usually do germane to mitzvos such as ner Chanukah and ner Shabbos. Rather, each is fulfilling the mitzvah of ner Chanukah separately.

Whether to follow this approach depends on the sensitivities of the people involved. My Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Y. Ruderman zt”l, often lectured us on the importance of being concerned about others’ feelings. He often repeated the story of the Chofetz Chayim’s rebbe, Rav Nachumke, who waited several hours until his rebbetzin returned home before lighting the Chanukah lights. Therefore, if kindling the menorah early via an agent will create friction between family members, one should wait and kindle at a time that creates more shalom bayis (see Shabbos 23b). It is important to discuss the matter in advance and decide on an approach that keeps everyone happy.

Question #3: I will be attending a wedding during Chanukah that requires me to leave my house well before lighting time, and I will not return until very late. Can I kindle at the wedding, just like the lighting that takes place in shul?

Answer: Let us ask this question about the baalei simcha themselves! If a wedding takes place during Chanukah, where should the baalei simcha light the menorah?

I have attended weddings during Chanukah where the baalei simcha brought their menorahs to the hall and kindled them there. However, this seems incorrect, because the baalei simcha are required to kindle Chanukah lights at their own homes (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:398). Therefore, they should light the menorah at their homes sometime during the evening. If this is not convenient, they should arrange for someone to kindle their menorah for them at their house, as their agent (see Mishnah Berurah 677:12). Guests attending the wedding who cannot kindle their menorah at home should also arrange for someone to light their menorah at their house. If they are concerned about leaving unattended lights burning, they should have someone remain with the lights for half an hour, and then the “menorah sitter” may extinguish the lights if he chooses. If someone wishes to light an additional menorah at the hall without a bracha to make pirsumei nisa, he may do so. However, this lighting does not fulfill the mitzvah (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:398).

WHY IS THIS DIFFERENT FROM LIGHTING IN SHUL?

Since one fulfills the mitzvah only by kindling the menorah in or near one’s residence, why do we kindle a menorah in shul?

Lighting the Chanukah menorah in shul does not fulfill the mitzvah of kindling Chanukah lights, but is a centuries-old minhag that we perform to make pirsumei nisa.

This practice prompts an interesting question. If lighting a menorah in shul is only a minhag, why do we recite a bracha on it? Do we ever recite brachos on minhagim?

The poskim explain that we recite a bracha because it is an accepted minhag, just as we recite a bracha on Hallel on Rosh Chodesh even though Chazal did not obligate this recital of Hallel and it, too, is technically a minhag (Shu’t Rivash #111; for other reasons see Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 671, s.v. uma shekasav shemeinichin). Actually, even those opinions who contend that one does not recite a bracha on Hallel on Rosh Chodesh agree that one does recite brachos when lighting a menorah in shul (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 671:7; Shu’t Yabia Omer 7:Orach Chayim:57; cf. Shu’t Chacham Tzvi #88).

THERE IS A CONCERT IN SCHOOL ON CHANUKAH. SHOULD WE LIGHT THE MENORAH WITH A BRACHA TO PERFORM PIRSUMEI NISA?

Although lighting a menorah at the assembly will also be an act of pirsumei nisa, one fulfills no mitzvah or minhag by doing so. Therefore, one should not recite a bracha on this lighting (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:398).

WHY IS THE CONCERT DIFFERENT FROM LIGHTING IN SHUL?

Lighting in shul is a specific, established minhag. We cannot randomly extend this minhag to other situations and permit making a bracha (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 1:398).

LIGHTING IN A HOTEL

Question #4: I will be spending part of Chanukah in a hotel. Where should I kindle my menorah?

Answer: One should light the menorah in one’s room (Chovas Ha’dar, Ner Chanukah 2:9; see Shu’t Maharsham 4:146, who requires one to kindle Chanukah lights while riding the train). If there is concern about a fire hazard, one should remain with the menorah until a half-hour after nightfall, or at least for a half-hour after kindling, and then extinguish the lights. On Shabbos, place only enough oil to burn the required amount of time, which is until a half-hour after nightfall.

SHOULD ONE PLACE THE MENORAH IN THE WINDOW OF HIS HOTEL ROOM?

If someone will be able to see the lit menorah from outside, then it is preferable to light in a window. If no one will be able to see the menorah from outside, he should simply kindle the menorah on a table in his room.

If the hotel forbids lighting flames in its bedrooms, and one is eating regularly in the hotel’s dining room, one may light in the hotel dining room. Although we decided earlier that it is preferable to light where one is eating rather than where one is sleeping, in this instance, the hotel room is a better choice, since it is more one’s living area than is the dining room.

Although frum hotels often set up menorahs in the hotel lobby, many poskim contend that one does not fulfill the mitzvah by placing a menorah there, since one is required to kindle Chanukah lights at one’s “home,” which is where one regularly eats or sleeps, and not in a lobby. Other poskim are lenient, and contend that the entire hotel lobby is considered one’s living area — just as one’s entire house is considered one’s living area. Therefore, according to these authorities, one may fulfill the mitzvah by lighting in the hotel lobby.

VISITING DURING CHANUKAH

Where do I light menorah if I visit a friend for Chanukah dinner, but I am not staying overnight?

Many people err and think that one may fulfill the mitzvah by kindling the menorah at someone else’s house while visiting. I know of people who invite guests to their house for menorah kindling and dinner. The problem with this is that one is required to kindle Chanukah lights at one’s own house. Therefore, the guest must kindle the Chanukah lights at his own house and then go to his friend’s house for the festive meal (Taz 677:2; Mishnah Berurah 677:12).

WHERE DOES A YESHIVAH BACHUR LIGHT HIS MENORAH?

This is a dispute among contemporary poskim. Some contend that he should light in the yeshivah dining room, since it is preferable to kindle where one eats, as we mentioned above. Others contend that his dormitory room is considered more his “dwelling” than the dining room, and that he should light there (Shu’t Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah III 14:5; Shu’t Minchas Yitzchok 7:48; Chovas Hador pg. 106). To resolve this issue, some bachurim have the practice of eating one meal each day of Chanukah in their dormitory room and kindling the menorah there.

What about a yeshivah bachur who spends his entire day in yeshivah, but sleeps at home?

It is unclear whether his main obligation to light is at home or in yeshivah. Some poskim suggest he can fulfill the mitzvah by relying on the people kindling at each place — his family lighting at his home and his fellow students lighting in the yeshivah. Alternatively, he can have in mind not to fulfill the mitzvah in either place and light wherever it is more convenient (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchok 7:48; Chovas Hador pg. 106).

REWARD FOR LIGHTING NER CHANUKAH

The Gemara teaches that someone who kindles Ner Chanukah will merit having sons who are talmidei chachomim (Shabbos 23b, see Rashi). This is puzzling; since all observant Jews kindle Ner Chanukah, why aren’t all our sons talmidei chachomim? The Rishonim explain that this bracha applies only to someone who observes the mitzvah carefully, in all its details (Sod Hadlakas Ner Chanukah, authored by Rabbi Yitzchok, the son of the Raavad). It is, therefore, in our best interest to be thoroughly familiar with all the halachos of kindling the Chanukah lights. May we all be blessed with a happy and healthy Chanukah!!

Explaining the Mitzvah of Pidyon Shevuyim

Question #1:

“Recently I saw an advertisement saying that it was pidyon shevuyim to save a child from being raised non-Jewish. But I thought pidyon shevuyim is to free a captive, and these children are with their non-Jewish father.”

Question #2:

“Is there a mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim when someone was captured because he was doing something irresponsible or illegal?”

Question #3:

“I know that the Mishnah states that one should not redeem captives at greater than their market value, but how does one establish market value for a person?”

Answer:

Many news items have revolved around the issue of pidyon shevuyim, the mitzvah to redeem captives or hostages, which Chazal call a mitzvah rabbah — a great mitzvah. And yet, notwithstanding how important a mitzvah it is, at times Chazal placed limitations on pidyon shevuyim. The goal of this article is to understand the importance of this mitzvah and its basic halachic rules and concepts.

Introduction:

The magnitude of the mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim is reflected in the following passage of Gemara, which is, at the same time, a commentary to a very heartbreaking passage of Navi:

Rava asked Rabbah bar Mari: What is the source for the Sages’ statement that redeeming captives is called a “great mitzvah”?

In response, Rabbah bar Mari cited the following verse in Yirmiyahu, which contains tremendously harsh rebuke of the Jewish people:

“Vayomer Hashem eilai, im yaamod Moshe UShmuel lefanai, ein nafshi el ha’am hazeh; shalach mei’al panai veyeitzei’u. Vehayah ki yomru eilecha ana neitzei? Ve’amarta aleihem, ko amar Hashem, asher lamaves, lamaves; va’asher lacherev, lacherev; va’asher lara’av, lara’av; va’asher lashevi, lashevi.

“Hashem said to me, even were Moshe and Shmuel to stand before me and plead on behalf of the Jews, I have no interest in this people – send them away from before me, and they shall go.

“And if they [the Jews] ask you [Yirmiyahu], ‘Where are we going?’ Tell them, ‘So said Hashem: he that is destined for natural death will meet natural death; he that is destined for the sword will meet the sword; he that is destined for hunger will perish through hunger; and he who is destined for captivity will be captured’ [Yirmiyahu 15:1-2].

Rabbah bar Mari then added the commentary of Rabbi Yochanan: “This pasuk is organized according to progressively harsh travail. Violent death is more severe than natural death. Death from starvation causes far greater suffering than violent death. Being captured is a greater calamity than death itself — because it includes all the others.” (Bava Basra 8b)

The Rambam (Hilchos Matanos Evyonim 8:10) codifies the conclusion of Rabbah bar Mari ‘s statement:

Redeeming captives receives priority over providing the poor with food and clothing. There is no mitzvah greater than redeeming captives, because a captive is included among those who are starving, those who are thirsty, those who are without clothing, and he is in life-threatening danger. Someone who hides from redeeming him violates the following Torah prohibitions:

(1) Lo se’ameitz es levavecha — do not harden your heart from helping the poor (Devarim 15:7)

(2) Lo sikpotz es yadcha — do not close your hand (ibid.)

(3) Lo saamod al dam rei’echa — do not stand by when someone’s life is in danger (Vayikra 19:16)

(4) Lo yirdenu befarech le’einecha — do not subjugate him with hard work (Vayikra 25:53).

He also violates the positive mitzvos of:

(1) Ki paso’ach tiftach es yadcha lo — you shall surely open your hand to him (Devarim 15:8),

(2) Vechei achicha imach  allow your brother to live with you (Vayikra 25:36)

(3) Ve’ahavta le’reiacha kamocha love your fellowman as yourself (Vayikra 19:18).

The halacha is that, if necessary, one may sell a sefer Torah to raise the money for redeeming captives (Tosafos, Bava Basra 8b s.v. Pidyon; Shach and Taz to Yoreh Deah 252:1) Although one should not sell a shul to be able to redeem captives, this is only because we want people to dip into their pockets deeply enough to produce the resources. However, when one knows that this will not provide sufficient funding, one may even sell a shul for pidyon shevuyim money (Shach and Taz ibid. Mishnah Berurah 153:24; cf., however, Derishah to Yoreh Deah 252 who disagrees).

Why don’t we redeem captives?

Thus, we find it very surprising that, under certain circumstances, Chazal prohibited redeeming captives. The Mishnah (Gittin 45a) rules one may not redeem captives for more than their market value, because of tikun olam. What does this Mishnah mean that there is a tikun olam, which literally translates as an improvement of the world, not to redeem captives? And what does the Mishnah mean when it says for greater than their market value?

The Gemara presents two disputing reasons how tikun olam is accomplished by limiting the redemption outlay for captives.

(1) The financial pressure will be greater than the community can bear.

(2) The captors will strive to capture other Jews as a result.

Let me explain. In earlier generations, the main cause for someone being captured was not for ransom and not as a hostage for political or prisoner exchange, but because pirates or a marauding armed gang would seize whatever they could of value, and human captives had commercial value as slaves. Thus, any person capable of working had an estimated market price at a slave auction (see Rashi, Kesubos 52b s.v. Trei; however, cf. Shu’t Radbaz 1:40). Notwithstanding the tremendous mitzvah of redeeming captives, Chazal limited how much one should pay to free captives, out of concern that pirates and other criminals would discover that capturing members of the Jewish people is particularly lucrative, and, as a result, they would deliberately target Jews. Thus, the Mishnah‘s takanah established a law that avoids saving one Jew at the expense of creating a menace to others; which explains why it is a tikun olam — it improves world safety.

Why is financial pressure greater than pidyon shevuyim?

This explains the Mishnah‘s takanah according to the second reason cited by the Gemara. However, the Gemara had previously cited a different reason for the tikun olam, which was that redeeming captives at a high price might cause undue financial pressure on the community. This appears to be a strange reason to prevent redeeming captives, particularly when we consider every captive to be in a circumstance of life-threatening emergency. Why would Chazal establish that financial pressure should override pikuach nefashos?

The Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Choshen Mishpat #177 at end) explains that when unlimited redemption funds are paid by the Jewish community coffers, the population itself will become impoverished, which will result in numerous life-threatening emergencies. (The current European financial and political crises are reflective of this.) Therefore, both reasons of the Gemara prevent the threat to one individual from endangering many others.

To sum up. The Mishnah cites a takanah not to redeem captives at greater than their market value because of a tikun olam, and the Gemara cites two reasons to explain the tikun olam, both of which are meant to avoid an inevitable situation that will endanger more people.

A difference in practical halacha

Is there any difference in halacha between the two reasons? Indeed, there is.

According to the first reason — that we are concerned about impoverishing the community – the takanah includes only a situation in which public funds are being used, but not when the redemption money is raised privately. However, according to the second reason, that we are concerned that criminals will now target Jews, the takanah is applicable even when we are raising private funds to redeem the captive, since this establishes a precedent that endangers other people. Thus, the two explanations of tikun olam disagree whether the takanah was specifically that the official community coffers may not be used to redeem captives at greater than market value, or whether this was an absolute takanah binding on all individuals.

To explain this consequence, the Gemara cites the story of a man named Levi bar Darga, who redeemed his captured daughter for a huge sum. The Gemara notes that whether Levi bar Darga was permitted to do this or not depends on which of the two answers of the Gemara we accept. If the tikun olam was to protect future captives, Levi bar Darga was not permitted to redeem his daughter at above her value in the slave market, since this would encourage the targeting of Jews. However, if the tikun olam is to avoid undue pressure on the community chest, Levi bar Darga and any other individual who is paying a ransom out of his personal pocket are permitted to pay whatever they choose, since they are making no requests of the community.

An interesting exception

There is one interesting exception to this rule. The poskim rule that the takanah not to redeem a captive for greater than his market value applies only to a third party redeeming someone, but does not apply to the captive himself, who may redeem himself at whatever price the captors demand (Tosafos, Kesubos 52a s.v.Vehayu; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 252:4).

If the captors threaten bloodshed

Now that we understand why we may not redeem captives for more than “market value,” we will explore whether there are any other exceptions to the tikun olam rule.

Is there any exception when the peril to life is more direct, such as when the captors threaten to execute the captives if their ransom demands are not met? Granted that the Rambam states that every instance of redeeming captives is pikuach nefesh, there are instances in which the level of pikuach nefesh is much greater, such as when the bloodthirsty captors may execute their hostage rather than sell him or her into slavery. Under these circumstances, does the rule of not redeeming captives above their market price still exist?

Indeed, many authorities consider this case to be an exception to the rule (Tosafos, Gittin 58a s.v. Kol and 45a s.v. Delo). They rally support to this position from the following story recorded by the Gemara (Gittin 58a). The great Tanna, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya, was in Rome shortly after the churban of the Beis Hamikdash when he heard of an unusually gifted lad who had been captured. Rabbi Yehoshua succeeded in communicating with the child and was tremendously impressed by the child’s acumen, realizing that this child would become a valuable asset for the Jewish people if he would be allowed the opportunity to develop into a Torah scholar. Rabbi Yehoshua decided to buy the child’s freedom at whatever this would cost, which he succeeded in doing at a very high premium. The child grew to become the Tanna Rabbi Yishmael.

Tosafos raises the question: how was Rabbi Yehoshua permitted to collect such a high ransom, when Chazal prohibited redeeming captives at above market price? Tosafos presents three reasons why Rabbi Yehoshua was permitted to do so.

(1) When there is a clear danger, the takanah does not apply.

(2) The Jewish people’s need for Torah scholars is very great, and therefore, one may redeem talmidei chachamim and potential talmidei chachamim at a higher price.

(3) At the time of the churban, how much ransom one paid to release a particular prisoner would not affect how many captives the Romans seized. Thus, the reason for the takanah did not apply in this instance.

Targeting talmidei chachamim

Many of us know of the famous story of the Maharam of Rottenberg (Germany), the famous thirteenth century “Captive Rabbi,” who refused to allow himself to be redeemed for an excessive price, out of concern that this would become a common practice of gentile kings and marauders. There is no reason to assume that the Maharam disagreed with Tosafos‘ conclusion that one may redeem Torah scholars at above market price. It is more likely that the Maharam realized that in his day, were he to have be redeemed for an exorbitant ransom, it would have endangered other talmidei chachamim and caused a great loss of talmidei chachamim to klal Yisrael.

Redeeming from imminent danger

Later poskim debate whether the first answer of Tosafos, that the takanah does not apply when the captive is in grave danger, is considered the final say in halacha (see Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 252:4). For example, the following responsum disputes Tosafos’ conclusion:

In the early sixteenth century, the Maharam of Lublin, Poland, was asked the following question by the Jewish community of Apta. (We should be careful not to confuse him with the Maharam of Rottenberg whom I mentioned above, who lived in Germany some 300 years earlier.) A young man of their community had been seized by gentiles, who contended that they had caught him engaged in unsavory activities, and that they were going to either execute him or forcibly convert him to their religion, in this instance, Islam. The community questioned whether it was required to redeem the young hostage, since he was accused of violating halacha and, in addition, had caused his own imprisonment by acting foolishly. In addition, assuming that they were responsible for redeeming him, they asked whether they were required to do so if the ransom demanded was excessive. (It appears from the responsum that the redemption funds would come from the general community funds or, perhaps, a special tax collection for this purpose.)

The Maharam responded that even were we certain that the young man had sinned, this fact would not exempt the community from redeeming him, even with use of public funds. Nevertheless, the Maharam contends that although they are required to redeem him, they are not required to pay more than his market value, even though his life is in serious danger. The Maharam contended that every captive is in life-threatening danger, yet Chazal ruled that we do not redeem captives at greater than “market value” because the potential life-threatening menace to the larger community endangers more people (Shu’t Maharam Lublin #15).

(The responsum of the Maharam has a surprising ending. After discussing all the halachic ramifications of the question asked, he reports that he consulted with a wise scholar familiar with the political scene near Apta, a certain Rav Moshe ben Rav Yehoshua, who advised that the accusation against the young man was merely an excuse of the jealous and greedy gentiles to demand funds from the Jewish community, and that the particular crime of which the young man was accused did not warrant the punishment they were threatening. Furthermore, the Maharam notes, it was uncertain whether the young man had indeed performed the act of which he was accused.)

Kidnapping for ransom

Does the takanah apply today, when the potential captors are not looking for prisoners that they can sell as slaves, but rather hostages that they can hold for ransom?

In an early responsum, the Radbaz (Shu’t #40) notes that the custom is to redeem captives at above the value that they would fetch in the slave market. He contends that even though the price is often ten or more times the captive’s slave value, the fact that the captors are not looking specifically for Jews means one can pay the higher price that a ransom would fetch. However, he notes that one should not pay more than gentiles would pay as ransom, since this could lead the captors to single out Jews in the future. The Radbaz notes, however, that common custom was to redeem at even higher prices. The Radbaz then proceeds to explain that this practice, which appears to run counter to the takanah of the Mishnah, is based on the following four heterim.

  1. Since there are wealthy gentiles who pay high ransoms for family members, potential kidnappers will target wealthy people, not necessarily Jews.
  1. Sometimes, the captive qualifies as a talmid chacham, who may be redeemed at above market price.
  1. When there are minors involved who will be lost to Judaism, we may redeem them at any price.
  1. We are not providing public funds, but seeking donations for these redemptions, which is not included in the takanah according to the first approach of the Gemara. (This last reason of the Radbaz is surprising, since the Rif, Rambam, and other major halachic authorities all rule according to the second reason the Gemara cited.)

Saving children from shmad

The third justification of the Radbaz touches on a different question, which unfortunately has become common, and leads us to a discussion about a different type of pidyon shevuyim. This is where we are not endeavoring to save someone’s physical life, which may not be at risk, but to save their spiritual life. It is accepted halacha that, in such a situation, there is no limit to how much money one is required to spend to save them, and the acts undertaken to save them supersede all the mitzvos of the Torah. This means that if one needs to travel on Shabbos or violate Shabbos in some other way to save a child from falling under non-Jewish influences, one is required to do so, just as saving physical lives supersedes Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 306:14). Therefore, someone who needs to fight a legal custody battle to save a minor from being raised in a non-Jewish environment is required to spend as much money as it takes to save the minor, even when the chances of winning are slim and communities are required to contribute significant sums to help.

In conclusion

The circumstances surrounding any situation of pidyon shevuyim are extremely painful; yet, precisely for this reason, it is the greatest mitzvah of chesed we can perform on behalf of another Jew, whether we are involved in redeeming him physically or spiritually. We should be certain to respond generously whenever we are approached to help in this mitzvah, and see it as a huge opportunity to do Hashem‘s will.

Is a Will the Halachic Way?

Would Yitzchak (and ultimately klal Yisroel) have been better off had he written up, in advance, a will, clearly determining how he wanted his spiritual and temporal properties to be divided?

Should one write a will?

May one distribute one’s estate differently from the way the Torah instructs?

SHOULD A JEW WRITE A WILL?

Before answering this question, we should clarify what would happen if one left no legally binding will. For example, who becomes the legal guardian of one’s minor children? The law may prescribe a very different solution than what one would want to happen, with potentially catastrophic results. After discovering this possibility, the need to have a will usually becomes obvious.

Another question to resolve is what happens to one’s property if one leaves no will. Each state and country has different laws determining who takes possession of the property of a person who dies without having left a will. One thing is virtually certain: The division followed by a court will not follow halacha. Probate court will almost certainly award part of or the entire estate to someone who is not halachically entitled to it. Since there is no reason to assume that the halachic heirs should want to forgo their rightful ownership, someone will receive property that is not rightfully his or hers.

SOME YERUSHA BASICS

In order to understand why the wrong person ends up with the property, we must first understand who should be the halachic heir. Many people are surprised to discover that halacha distributes inheritance very differently from modern legal procedure.

According to Torah Law, property is bequeathed as follows: Sons or heirs of sons inherit everything, even if there are daughters (Bava Basra 115a). (Yes, this means that a granddaughter who is the daughter of an already deceased son inherits Grandpa’s estate ahead of Grandpa’s own daughter, an anomaly that the Gemara itself notes [Bava Basra 115b].)

If there is more than one son, the father’s bechor, firstborn son, receives a double portion in much of his father’s properties, but not his mother’s. This means that if there are three sons, including the firstborn, the property is divided into four portions, and the firstborn receives two. (Who qualifies as a bechor for these laws, and in which properties he does or does not receive an extra portion, are topics to be dealt with a different time.) If there are no sons or heirs of sons, then the daughters inherit, and if there are no surviving daughters, then their heirs do (Bava Basra 115a). If the deceased left no surviving descendants, the father of the deceased is the beneficiary of the entire estate (Bava Basra 108b). If the father has already passed on, then the paternal brothers inherit; if there are no brothers, their progeny are next in line. If no brothers or offspring survive, then paternal sisters and their children are the heirs. If the deceased’s father has no surviving progeny, then the deceased’s paternal grandfather and his descendants become the beneficiaries, again following the same pattern.

HUSBAND INHERITING

There is one major exception to these rules of yerusha – a husband inherits most assets left by his deceased wife. (Again, I will leave the exceptions for a different time.) This is true even if she has children, and even if her children are from a previous marriage. There are many ramifications of this rule, which can be the subject of a full-length halachic/legal treatise, and certainly reflect a very different hashkafah, perspective, on fiscal decision making than what is politically correct in today’s world.

DAUGHTERS

Although daughters are not heirs when there are sons, minor daughters receive support from their father’s estate. In addition, the estate provides for the wedding and related expenses of all unmarried daughters. Beis Din estimates the amount of these gifts based on the father’s means and how much he provided, while still alive, for the older sisters’ weddings (Kesubos 68a; cf., however, Tosafos, Kesubos 50b).

A widow does not inherit from her husband; instead, her late husband’s assets provide for her, until she shows interest in remarriage. At that time, she may collect her kesubah.

PATRILINEAL RELATIVES

Note that all halachic heirs follow the father’s line and not the mother’s (Bava Basra 108a; Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 276:4). Thus, if an only child, whose father is also an only child, died, his heir will be a cousin on his paternal side, and not his closer relatives on his mother’s side.

Yankel (not his real name) once asked me the following shaylah: “My half-sister, who is my mother’s daughter, passed on, leaving all her property to her caretaker. The family members are contesting the will, and would like me to join their lawsuit. May I?”

I noted that there is no halachic point in his participating in this litigation, even if Beis Din authorized the suit. Even assuming that the will is indeed worthless, Yankel has no halachic claim to the money, since only relatives on the paternal side have halachic claim to the estate, and he is related on her mother’s side. Therefore, any properties he receives would actually belong to someone else. In this instance, bitachon must teach one that although civil law may consider the property to be yours, the ratzon Hashem is that to keep it is tantamount to stealing!

CHOOSING ONE’S HEIRS

According to civil law, a person may choose his heirs and thereby distribute his earthly wealth after he passes on. However, according to the Torah, a person cannot technically choose his heirs, nor distribute property after his demise. When a man dies, the Torah instructs who owns his assets according to the laws of yerusha presented previously.

If a person cannot create his own heir, does this mean that it is impossible to influence who eventually receives his assets? No, since there are several halachically acceptable methods of transferring property to someone who is not a halachic heir. Most of the methods take affect by creating some form of gift while the benefactor is still alive. Exactly how each method works, and the relative advantages and disadvantages of each approach, is a complex topic, beyond the range of this article. Certainly prior to finalizing a will drafted by an attorney, one should ask one’s rav whether there are any halachic concerns with the will’s goals, and what needs to be added (or changed) to validate it halachically. It is even better to speak to one’s rav before drafting the will for direction on some of the halachic issues involved.

Let us now examine the second question I raised above:

MAY ONE DISTRIBUTE ONE’S ESTATE DIFFERENTLY FROM WHAT THE TORAH INSTRUCTS?

Granted that one can change how one’s estate is to be divided, is it halachically correct to do so? Does the Torah require us to follow its yerusha laws, or are these merely default procedures if someone made no other provisions?

We can answer this question by analyzing the following incident:

Rav Papa was negotiating a shidduch for one of his sons (he had ten) with the daughter of Abba Soraah. When Rav Papa traveled to discuss the dowry Abba Soraah would provide, he was accompanied by Yehudah bar Mareimar, who declined to enter Abba Soraah’s house. Rav Papa invited Yehudah bar Mareimar to join him, but Yehudah bar Mareimar declined the invitation.

Rav Papa then asked Yehudah bar Mareimar, “Why do you not want to join me? Is it because you feel that my negotiating violates Shmuel’s ruling, ‘Do not be among those who transfer inheritance, even from a sinful son to a good one, since one never knows – perhaps the bad son will raise fine children?’” Following Shmuel’s ruling, one should certainly not transfer property to the daughter that rightfully belongs to the son. “However,” continued Rav Papa, “this is not a correct application of Shmuel’s rule, since there is another rabbinic ruling of Rabbi Yochanan quoting Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai that encourages people to provide substantial dowries for their daughters.”

Yehudah bar Mareimar responded, “Indeed Rabbi Yochanan ruled that we encourage men to provide their daughters with dowries — but we do not pressure them to do so” (Kesubos 52b- 53a).

We can derive several principles from this passage:

1. One should provide for one’s daughter in order to encourage her marriage, even when this reduces the amount available for inheritance.

2. One should not pressure someone to provide a substantive dowry for his daughter’s shidduch.

3. Although one can disinherit an heir, Chazal discourage this practice, even if the heir is an evil person, since he may have righteous children who should not be deprived of their just portion. One is certainly discouraged from transferring the inheritance to someone who is not a halachic heir at all.

The Shulchan Aruch codifies this last rule: “The Sages are displeased with someone who gives away his property to others and abandons his heirs, even if they do not treat him properly” (Choshen Mishpat 282:1; note comments of Sm’a, and Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat #153).

The authorities dispute whether this prohibition applies only to the testator or includes even others who assist him in transferring the inheritance. According to the Chasam Sofer, a rav who teaches how to transfer inheritance violates this rabbinic prohibition! (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat #153; cf. Shevet HaLevi 4:116, who quotes authorities who disagree.)

 

SHTAR CHATZI ZACHOR

An old custom, dating back hundreds of years, was to draft a shtar chatzi zachor, which provided daughters with half of what their brothers inherit. (The words shtar chatzi zachor mean a document providing half that of a male child.) Several early authorities approve this practice, even though it transfers property from the male heirs, because providing for one’s daughters enhances their chance of finding suitable shidduchin (Shu’t Maharam Mintz #47, quoted by Nachalas Shivah 21:4:2). Although Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, quoted in the above Gemara, encouraged providing only a dowry for one’s daughter and made no mention of inheritance, these poskim contend that knowing that she will eventually inherit also entices a potential groom. (However, note that Shu’t Maharam Rottenberg #998 disagrees with this approach, implying that he would object to the practice of shtar chatzi zachor.)

CONTEMPORARY PRACTICE

It is now common for wills to provide equally for all children, both sons and daughters, and to ignore the bechor’s double portion. Contemporary poskim suggest that one should follow whatever practice is necessary to avoid a machlokes caused by unrealized expectations, and advise asking a rav for direction (Gesher HaChayim, 1:8; MiDor LeDor pg. 36). Many authorities recommend that one set aside a small amount of property to be divided according to the laws of yerusha (based on Tashbeitz end of 3:147, quoted by Ketzos HaChoshen 282:2).

The Gesher HaChayim records a story of a talmid chacham who wanted his estate divided exactly as the Torah instructs, legally arranging that his bechor should receive a double portion and that only his sons, and not his daughters, receive inheritance. Unfortunately, the result of this distribution was a legacy of machlokes that created a tremendous chillul Hashem. For this reason, the Gesher HaChayim recommends that a person divide his estate among his children in a way that maintains shalom.

ABANDONING HEIRS

Other than the two reasons mentioned above, (1) encouraging daughters’ shidduchin (2) maintaining harmonious relationship among family members, halacha frowns strongly on disinheriting the rightful heirs in favor of those who are not, and disapproves of providing more for one heir at the expense of another (Rashbam, Bava Basra 133b). In order to explain this better, let us examine the following case:

Mr. Rubinstein, who has no children, would like to divide his estate equally among all his nephews and nieces. However, only some of his nephews are his halachic heirs, those who are sons of his brothers. The nephews who are sons of his sisters are not halachic heirs, nor are any of his nieces. If Mr. Rubinstein divides all his property among all his nephews and nieces evenly, he has violated Chazal’s concept of not transferring inheritance, since he has given away his halachic heirs’ portion to those who are not his heirs.

Note that in this case, the two reasons that permit transferring inheritance do not apply. Mr. Rubinstein is not obligated to provide for his nieces’ marriages nor is it likely that limiting his will to his halachic heirs will create a family dispute.

May Mr. Rubinstein give most of his estate to his nieces and sisters’ sons, as long as he bequeaths some according to the laws of yerusha? The halachic authorities debate this question, some maintaining that one may give a large part of one’s estate to those who are not halachic heirs, provided that each heir receives some inheritance. According to this opinion, Mr. Rubinstein may dispose of his property any way he chooses, provided he leaves part of the estate according to the laws of yerusha.

Other authorities prohibit any action that deprives the halachic heirs of their rightful portion (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat #151). Furthermore, it should be noted that the prohibition against transferring inheritance applies even when the heirs are not his sons (see Shu’t Chasam Sofer Choshen Mishpat #151; Aruch HaShulchan, Choshen Mishpat 282:3; Shu’t Shevet HaLevi 4:116).

TZEDAKAH

Is it considered abandoning one’s heirs if one bequeaths sizable amounts of one’s estate to tzedakah?

Some authorities contend that it is not, and one may leave even one’s entire fortune to tzedakah. The reason for this approach is very interesting.

A person has no obligation to acquire assets in order to fulfill the mitzvah of yerusha. Furthermore, one has the right to use up all one’s financial resources, while alive, in any way one chooses and leave nothing to his heirs. After all, as owner of the property he is free to do with it as he sees fit.

Donating tzedakah, reasons the Chasam Sofer, is using money for oneself, since all the merits accrue to the donor. Just as one may use his resources for himself however one chooses, so may one donate all the resources that he will no longer need to tzedakah, without violating the prohibition of transferring inheritance. The Chasam Sofer reasons that this is equivalent to the testator keeping the property for himself, since he receives all the reward for the tzedakah he gives (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat #151). (From this perspective, you can take it with you!!)

However, although some earlier authorities (Rama, Yoreh Deah 249:1) concur with the Chasam Sofer’s conclusions, others contend that one should limit his tzedakah bequests to one third or one half of one’s assets (Rabbi Akiva Eiger ad loc., quoting Sheiltos; Chachmas Odom 144:12). Still others feel that one should not give substantial amounts of tzedakah at the expense of the heirs, unless the heirs are acting inappropriately (Shu’t Maharam Rottenberg #998).

CONCLUSION

It is important to realize that one’s legal rights and responsibilities are not governed by secular law. A Torah Jew understands that Hashem’s Torah is all-encompassing, and that it directs every aspect of one’s life. Thus, one should discuss with one’s rav all aspects of the important shaylah — how to draw one’s will.

Rav Lazer Shach – the Transmitter of Mesorah

Since Rav Shach’s yahrzeit is this coming Sunday, I am sending this article this week rather than our usual halachah article.

The yahrzeit of Rav Elazer Menachem Man Shach falls on the 16th of MarCheshvan. Rav Shach was the last surviving member of his generation of gedolei Yisrael, and as such was the link to gedolei Yisrael of over 100 years ago, whom he knew well and whose approach to Yiddishkeit he taught.

Rav Shach’s birth date is usually reported as Erev Rosh Chodesh Shvat, 5655/1895, although the exact year of his birth is uncertain. He was born in the village of Vaboilnick, Lithuania, at a time when all of Lithuania and Eastern Poland was under the rule of the Russian Czar. His family was wealthy in yiras shamayim, but destitute in worldly possessions.

Rav Shach would often point out that the gedolim of his generation developed because of the tremendous sacrifice they had for Torah and their lack of material wealth. Indeed, his early years are reflective of the tremendous difference between his generation and ours.

HIS FIRST YESHIVA – Ponevitz

Rav Shach developed a deep attachment to Torah at a very young age. When he was eleven years old, Rav Shach left his home and his hometown to go to the Yeshivah Ketanah in Ponevitz. At this period in history, it was very common for eleven-year olds to be apprenticed for work. Poverty among Jews in Czarist Russia was rampant. Government anti-Semitism made it almost impossible for Jews to earn a living. They were banned from most professions and trades, and generally tried to eke out a living from manual labor, small trade or farming, although a fortunate few had small businesses.

Out of necessity, children as young as eleven and twelve were often apprenticed to skilled and semi-skilled craftsmen. There was often not enough food at home to feed them, anyway. If they were apprenticed, they were at least fed and clothed, albeit poorly. A lucky, young apprentice might even earn enough money to buy a pair of shoes to help him through the harsh Russian winter.

Some dedicated youngsters ignored the financial security of apprenticeship and left home for yeshiva at a very young age. This usually meant going to the nearest large town or city where a prominent talmid chacham headed a yeshivah.

The conditions that Rav Shach and the other young talmidim endured in no way approximated current yeshivah conditions. Those old time yeshivos had no kitchens, dining rooms, or dormitories. The student body was comprised of bochurim learning in a local shul or beis medrash, guided and taught by a local rav, when he was not occupied with his Rabbinic responsibilities.

Many yeshivah bochurim came from very poor families that could not afford to send them any money. With no funds, they usually slept in the beis medrash, where they learnt day and night, or took work as night watchmen in unheated factories or warehouses. This at least provided a roof over their heads during the bitterly cold Russian or Polish winters and a little money to buy some food.

Bochurim with no money to buy food usually ate “teg.” Every day (tog) of the week they were assigned to eat with a family, who often did not have sufficient food for themselves. As a result, many bachurim went days on end without a proper meal. Rav Shach used to describe the embarrassment and deprivation he suffered during his yeshivah days.

STORIES FROM PONEVITZ

Rav Shach often told stories from his years in Ponevitz, thus preserving for our generation the mesorah of Ponevitz Yeshivah and the gedolim who lived and visited there. (The Ponevitz Yeshivah in Bnei Braq was founded by Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, who was the last rav of Ponevitz before it was destroyed by the Nazis.)

At the time Rav Shach arrived in Ponevitz Yeshivah Ketanah as an eleven-year -old, Rav Itzele Rabinovitch, who was known as Rav Itzele Ponevitzer, was the rosh yeshivah and the rav of the town. Rav Itzele was famous as the genius of his generation, a rather impressive title, considering that it included such Torah luminaries as Rav Chayim Brisker, Rav Dovid Karliner, the Ohr Somayach, the Rogatchover Gaon, Rav Chayim Ozer, the Chofetz Chayim, and the Aruch Hashulchan.

Indeed, Rav Itzele and Rav Chayim Brisker were chavrusos (study partners) for many years shortly after their marriages (in the 1870’s). Rav Itzele was a disciples of Rav Chaim’s father, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveichek, the Beis HaLevi.

The youngster who became Rav Shach was very close to Rav Itzele and learned much from him. Rav Itzele’s hasmadah (diligence in Torah study) was legendary. He would learn until his last ounce of energy was exhausted and invariably fell asleep with this boots on, even when they were covered with mud. (In this era, the streets of Ponevitz were unpaved.) As Rav Shach expressed, if Rav Itzele had enough energy to take off his boots before falling asleep, he would not have used the strength to remove his boots, but to learn more Torah!!

Rav Shach illustrated Rav Itzele’s tremendous fear of sin with the following story. When a Jew opened his business on Shabbos in Ponevitz, Rav Itzele resigned from his position as rav, explaining that he was petrified to go to the Beis Din shel Maalah (the heavenly tribunal) as the rav of a community where Shabbos was publicly desecrated. Eventually, the chevrah kadisha forced the storeowner to close on Shabbos by refusing to bury his father!

Rav Shach quoted this story to point out the awe of Hashem of earlier generations. How many modern day rabbonim would resign their position because someone in the city desecrates Shabbos?

Another aspect of Rav Itzele’s righteousness that affected Rav Shach was his tefilah. Rav Itzele would daven with a burning passion. This made a tremendous impression on the young, budding scholar.

Rav Shach pointed out that Rav Itzele’s innovative style of learning was praised by some and criticized by others. He quoted Rav Chayim Brisker criticizing Rav Itzele as being expert in three Talmuds, the Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi, and Talmud Rav Itzele. In other words, Rav Chayim considered Rav Itzele’s approach to learning as more conjectural than analytic. Others disagreed with Rav Chayim, contending that Rav Itzele’s shiurim were total brilliance.

Unfortunately, very few of Rav Itzele’s brilliant chiddushei Torah were saved for posterity, other than a small sefer titled Zecher Yitzchak. Rav Itzele’s talmidim included Rav Naftoli Trop, who later became the rosh yeshivah of the Chofetz Chayim’s yeshivah in Raden, and Rav Boruch Horowitz, who later became a magid shiur (Talmud Lecturer) in Slabodka.

SLABODKA

After several years, Rav Shach left the Ponevitz Yeshivah Ketanah for the Yeshivah Gedolah in Slabodka, which was the “mother of yeshivos” in those days. Most of the gedolei Yisrael of Rav Shach’s generation were educated in Slabodka.

Slabodka was a suburb of Kovno and stood on the opposite bank of the Vilaya River. Although Kovno was politically and economically far more important (between the two world wars, it was the capital and largest city of Lithuania), Slabodka was clearly the Torah capital of Eastern Europe. It was the home of not one, but two major yeshivos, at a time when there were very few large yeshivos. Surprisingly, both these yeshivos were created by the same gadol, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, always referred to as the “Alter from Slabodka.”

The older of the two yeshivos, Yeshivas Knesses Beis Yitzchok, (named after Rav Yitzchok Elchanan Spektor, the rav of Kovno and the posek hador when Rav Shach was born) was a non-mussar yeshivah. The yeshivah schedule was devoted exclusively to learning, and no official time was set aside for mussar and personality development. The yeshivah’s hashkafah (philosophy) was that a student immersed in Torah did not require structured mussar, and that, on the contrary, it might even stunt his growth in Torah learning.

When Rav Shach arrived in Slabodka, the rosh yeshivah of Knesses Beis Yitzchok was Rav Boruch Ber Levovitz. In addition to being a tremendous gaon in learning, Rav Boruch Ber was also a tzaddik who never looked up when walking in the street and was completely unconcerned with the mundane world.

The other yeshiva in Slabodka was the mussar Yeshiva, Knesses Yisrael, which was named after Rav Yisrael Salanter. Its rosh yeshivah was Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein. (It is interesting to note that both Rav Boruch Ber and Rav Moshe Mordechai had studied under Rav Chayim Brisker, when he was a magid shiur [a lecturer] in the yeshivah of Volozhin. Thus, Rav Shach absorbed Rav Chayim’s methodology through them.)

The two yeshivos of Slabodka were in excellent rapport with one another,

as one would expect when the yeshivos are run by great tzaddikim. Students of one yeshivah attended shiurim at the other and sought out its magidei shiur and roshei yeshivah to “talk in learning.” Thus, although Rav Aharon Kotler officially studied in Knesses Yisrael, he and others regularly attended Rav Boruch Ber’s shiur at Knesses Beis Yitzchok. The attitude of the great luminaries running these yeshivos was that the more Torah institutions there were, the more Torah would be learned. This attitude influenced many of Rav Shach’s later decisions about opening new yeshivos.

Rav Shach attended Knesses Yisrael, the mussar yeshivah, whose guiding spirit was its mashgiach, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the famed “Alter of Slabodka.”. (His title, the “alter” [the older mashgiach], distinguished him from the other mashgiach, Rav Ber Hirsch Heller, who was his junior by a few years. Rav Heller later became the father-in-law of Rav Yaakov Kaminetski, one of the yeshivah’s many talented students. Many decades later, Rav Yaakov and Rav Shach, who knew one another from their Slabodka days, renewed their acquaintance as gedolei and manhigei klal Yisrael when they met in Yerushalayim to discuss community concerns.)

The Alter held that a rosh yeshivah or mashgiach must devote all his energy to his talmidim. A wealthy man once brought his only son to study in Slabodka. As he presented his son to the Alter, he begged him, “Please take good care of this boy. He is my ‘ben yochid’ (only son).” The Alter replied, “Every talmid of the yeshivah is my ben yochid.” This was not rhetoric but the Alter’s way of life. For example, Rav Shach related that the Alter fasted when a bochur failed to learn or grow in his Yiddishkeit. This approach to chinuch influenced Rav Shach’s leadership not only of his talmidim but also his relationship to people who came to seek his advice.

To appreciate what Rav Shach absorbed in Slabodka, we need to understand the Alter, who was an indirect disciple of Rav Yisrael Salanter, the founder of the Mussar Movement. The Alter developed the teachings of Rav Yisrael and his early disciples to meet the challenges of his time. Furthermore, he was brilliant at understanding talmidim and nurturing them to their greatest potential.

The Alter’s original contribution to the Mussar Movement was his emphasis on “Gadlus Ha’Adam” — that a person should develop with his own unique abilities in order to serve Hashem to the maximum.

The Alter nurtured an impressive list of gedolei Torah including Rav Shach, Rav Aharon Kotler of Lakewood, Rav Yaakov Kaminetski of Torah Vada’as, Rav Reuvain Grozovski of Beis Medrash Elyon, Rav Yaakov Ruderman of Ner Yisrael, Rav Yizchok Hutner of Chayim Berlin, Rav Moshe Chevroni of Yeshivas Chevron. As Rav Shach used to say, an entire generation of gedolei Yisrael, both in America and in Eretz Yisrael, was trained by one man: the Alter from Slabodka.

Each of these gedolim was a tremendous talmid chacham and a gadol in learning, leadership, and mussar. The Alter developed each one of them in his own unique way. Thus, Rav Hutner was a brilliant leader of men whose talmidim also excel in hashkafah, Torah machshavah (Jewish thought), and the writings of the Maharal. Rav Yaakov Kaminetski’s greatness as a gadol manifested itself in his unusual expertise and perception in giving advice. Furthermore, he was unusually gifted in poskim, Tanach, and dikduk. Rav Ruderman was a person who could quote verbatim virtually every early sefer ever published – and at the same time train a young talmid to think for himself. In addition to his lightning-fast mind and brilliance in learning, Rav Aharon Kotler became the community leader who motivated people to work for the kahal (community) in areas where no one else was successful. He has been described as “fire on earth.”

A common thread of the talmidim of Slabodka was that although they were totally committed to learning, when the need arose, they involved themselves in community responsibilities. Rav Shach, too, would have happily spent all his time learning and teaching Torah, but he unhesitatingly assumed community responsibility when it became necessary.

Following the Alter’s teachings, Rav Shach developed into the proactive leader of klal Yisrael, both collectively and individually. When the time came, he was totally willing to render decisions on any issue – political, religious, educational, kashrus, organizational. Although he always emphasized and demonstrated that nothing is more valuable than learning Torah intensely to the best of one’s abilities, he assumed the mantle of Torah leadership and made crucial decisions when it was necessary.

Slabodka had a tremendous effect on Rav Shach although he was only able to remain there for two years, until the outbreak of World War I. At the eastern front, between Russia and Germany, the war raged through the areas of heavy Jewish settlement in western Russia. All the yeshivos fled, mostly deeper inside Russia.

RAV ISSER ZALMAN AND RAV AARON

Details of Rav Shach’s travels during the war are unclear, but we know that he found his way to Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer’s yeshivah in Slutzk. Rav Issar Zalman had also studied under Rav Chayim Brisker in the yeshivah of Volozhin and then proceeded to develop his own style of learning. Rav Shach used to quote Rav Chayim as saying, “Had Rav Isser Zalman followed completely in my footsteps, he would have become the master of my style of learning. Instead, he became the master of his own style of learning.” Rav Shach approved highly of this approach and never insisted that talmidim should absorb his style of understanding Gemara. It was far more important to him that they develop their own derech in learning.

In Slutzk, Rav Shach became the chavrusah of Rav Aharon Kotler, who had married Rav Isser Zalman’s daughter, Perel. Eventually, Rav Aharon became a magid shiur in the yeshiva and later the rosh yeshiva.

In 5684/1923, Rav Shach married Gittel Gilmovski, Rav Isser Zalman’s niece. For the next five years, he continued toiling in Torah day and night. In the meantime, the Communists seized power in Russia and Rav Aharon moved the yeshiva to Kletzk, Poland, which was free of Communist rule.

In 5689/1929, Rav Shach became a magid shiur in Kletzk and began his lifelong career as a Torah teacher. He was a magid shiur or rosh yeshiva of several yeshivos until the Second World War broke out ten years later, first in Kletzk, next in Novardek, and afterward for four years as rosh yeshivah of the Chassidishe Yeshivas Karlin in Lunenitz. Subsequently, he returned to Kletzk.

Rav Shach related that shortly after the Second World War broke out, the invading Soviet army was approaching Kletzk from the east. It was obvious that the yeshiva needed to relocate quickly, and Rav Shach went looking for potential sites. In one town, he met an old Jew who was a grandson of Rav Yisrael Salanter. Rav Shach asked him whether the town had an appropriate beis medrash or shul large enough for the yeshiva, whether the local people would help support the yeshiva, and whether they could provide lodging for the talmidim.

Turning to Rav Shach, the old man retorted, “Why are you delaying? First come, bring the talmidim here, and set up the yeshiva. Do you think that the people will allow the talmidim to sleep in the street? You don’t need extensive planning, but you do need quick action!”

“From that yid,” said Rav Shach, “I learned a tremendous lesson. In times of emergency, don’t raise questions. Just do something!”

It was characteristic of a baal mussar like Rav Shach to tell a story in which he himself was the target of the message.

THE CHOFETZ CHAYIM

After Rav Isser Zalman moved to Eretz Yisrael in 5685/1925, he often sent inquiries to Rav Shach to bring to the Chofetz Chayim. Rav Shach used these opportunities to become well acquainted with the Chofetz Chayim’s world outlook.

Years later, when important communal matters came up, Rav Shach often said, “I don’t know anything about this subject, but I received a tradition from the Chofetz Chayim that this is what should be done,” or “I have not heard anything about this matter, but I have no doubt that the Chofetz Chayim would decide such-and-such. Since he is no longer alive, I must make that decision.” Thus, by sending Rav Shach to the Chofetz Chayim with his questions, Rav Isser Zalman was grooming a future gadol hador.

ERETZ YISRAEL

In 5701/1941, with the kindness of Hashem, Rav Shach escaped the inferno of Europe for Eretz Yisrael. Before he found his place in the Ponevitz Yeshiva, he was a magid shiur in several yeshivos in different cities, including Petach Tikvah, Rechovot, and Yerushalayim. During this time he lived in Yerushalayim and became very close to the Brisker Rav, Rav Yitzchok Ze’ev Soloveichek (the son of Rav Chayim Brisker), who transferred the mesorah of Brisk from Europe to Yerushalayim. (The current rosh yeshivah of Brisk Yeshiva in Yerushalayim, Rav Avrohom Yehoshua Soloveichik, is the Brisker Rav’s grandson, while Rav Meshulam Dovid Soloveichik, also rosh yeshiva of a very prominent Brisk yeshivah, is his uncle, a son of the Brisker Rav. The “Brisk”-type yeshivos are headed by descendants of Rav Chayim Brisker or by their talmidim.)

The Brisker Rav was known for his meticulous observance of mitzvos. Rav Shach mentioned that while most people purchase new suits in honor of Pesach, the Brisker Rav would buy a new jacket to use at the table, in order to be absolutely certain that his clothes were chometz-free!

In 5711/1951, Rav Shach was invited by the Ponevitzer Rav, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, to become rosh yeshivah of Ponevitz Yeshivah in Bnei Braq, and he held this position until his passing fifty years later. During this time, he gradually became acknowledged as the gadol hador. Thousands of people sought his guidance, dozens of yeshivos asked him for direction, and he was the active leader of the chareidi world, directing thousands of issues that affect Torah life in a modern world. He charted the Torah path in dealing with a secular modern state. Never hesitant to issue decisions and opinions on public matters, whether popular or not, Rav Shach ruled according to the mesorah he had received from gedolei Yisrael. Torah is not a public relations tool but the seal of truth.

AVI EZRI

In 5708/1948, Rav Shach published the first volume of his sefer, Avi Ezri. This sefer is organized according to the order of the Rambam, although in many places it contains his chiddushei Torah (original ideas) on the Gemara. His approach is to answer difficult questions on the rishonim in a clear, deceptively simple way. Although the sefer is relatively easy to read, it should be used only by someone who has studied the subject matter in depth. Otherwise, he will fail to see the sefer’s greatness.

Unlike many other authors, Rav Shach did not collect numerous haskamos (approbations) for his sefarim. His first volume carried only one haskamah — from his wife’s uncle, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer. His second volume, published in 5716/1956, also, has only one haskamah — from the Brisker Rav (Rav Isser Zalman had passed away by then).

The sefer is built on intellectual honesty. Sometimes, in a later volume, Rav Shach will contend that what he wrote in an earlier volume is wrong. In his hakdamah (introduction) to the sefer he describes the extreme honesty that one must apply to learning — a manifestation of the training he received in Slabodka and from Rav Itzele.

In his hakdamah, Rav Shach questions whether one has the right to publish sefarim if he is not convinced that he has researched the subject thoroughly. How can one claim that he has studied the subject to its greatest depth? Furthermore, if one republishes a sefer (the first volume of Avi Ezri was published four times in Rav Shach’s lifetime), one should ostensibly relearn each sugya to see if one still agrees with what one wrote before – just as a rav may not paskin a shaylah that he has ruled on previously without reviewing the question once again.

Rav Shach closes his hakdamah with a realistic conclusion. If we published only those sefarim written totally lishmah, exclusively for the sake of Torah, we would never produce any sefarim at all, and Torah learning would be severely hampered. We are permitted to produce sefarim that increase Torah learning, which is our goal. Hesitating to publish a sefer would minimize Torah learning and leave more opportunity for the intrusion of non-Torah hashkafos.

A FEW VIGNETTES

Everyone finds much to identify with in Rav Shach’s stories and mussar. I will share with you some of the stories that I find particularly touching.

A well known talmid chacham was offered the position of magid shiur in a yeshiva where the previous holder of the position had been unsuccessful. Before taking the position, he came to ask Rav Shach for advice and a beracha. Much to his surprise, Rav Shach recommended that he turn down the position. Rav Shach explained that although it was permitted to accept the position, it was inadvisable to accept a position that will cause a talmid chacham to feel bad because someone else replaced him.

Rav Shach was annoyed at the common practice of yeshivah students setting aside time for a daily nap. “When you get tired,” he said, “put your head down for a few minutes. But there is no reason to devote specific time in the day for this purpose.”

He was once asked to be the sandek for one baby of a set of twins, while the grandfather was to be sandek for the other twin. Rav Shach insisted that he either be sandek for both twins or for neither. He pointed out that later in their lives, the two twins might compare themselves, and one would point out that Rav Shach had been his sandek and not his brother’s. He did not want to be party to something that could lead to ill feeling between two brothers.

Often, Rav Shach pointed out that the pace of learning in the European yeshivos that produced gedolim was much quicker than is common today. He noted that in Slabodka, they regularly studied ten blatt of Gemara a week. Rav Shach remarked, “Even if we did not understand the sugya properly at first, we would understand it better the next time around.”

Through Rav Shach, a generation of yeshivah students was connected to the mesorah of the Chofetz Chayim, the Alter of Slabodka, Rav Chayim Brisker, Rav Itzele Ponevitzer, Rav Yisrael Salanter and the Mussar Movement. Ye’hi Zichro Baruch.

Must I Repeat My Tefillah?

clip_image002_thumb.jpgQuestion #1: First among equals!?

Why is the first beracha of Shemoneh Esrei, which is called Birkas Avos, different from all the other berachos of Shemoneh Esrei?

Question #2: Wanderings of the mind

Mutti Kulis* calls me with the following predicament:

Despite my best intentions, my mind sometimes wanders during davening, although I really wish I could focus always on building my relationship with Hashem. I recently discovered that the Mishnah Berurah rules that someone saying Shemoneh Esrei who realizes that he recited the first beracha without kavanah should refrain from proceeding until the chazzan’s repetition, and be very attentive to the chazzan’s davening. I tried this once, but did not find this solution practical. The Mishnah Berurah‘s suggestion also does not help my wife, who davens at home. Although I am trying hard to think of the meaning of the words of the first beracha of Shemoneh Esrei, is there a different way to resolve the predicament should I discover at some time in the future that I recited this beracha without kavanah?

Answer:

We should certainly always be careful to think of the meaning of the words every time we praise Hashem. We should be even more concerned when reciting our daily prayers, since they are called avodah shebeleiv, service of the heart, which means our emotional attachment to Hashem. Tefillah means talking directly to Hashem. When davening we should at least be as attentive as we are when engaging in a casual conversation with a friend. Even one who does not know the meaning of every word should pray realizing that he/she is speaking to Hashem. The purpose of prayer is to communicate directly to Hashem, and it is rather obvious that davening inattentively does not achieve its purpose.

To quote the Shulchan Aruch: A person who is praying must focus on the meaning of the words that he is saying and imagine that he is facing the Divine Presence. One must do away with all distracting thoughts so that his focus is undisturbed. One should ponder how he would be attentive and choose his words carefully if he was speaking to a king of flesh and blood; certainly before the King of all kings, the Holy One, blessed is He (Orach Chayim 98:1).

Yet we all know that, unfortunately, we often are unmindful during our davening. The Gemara itself notes that it is inherently human to become distracted during prayer (Yerushalmi, Berachos 2:4; Rosh Hashanah 16b and Bava Basra 164b as explained by Rabbeinu Tam). The question that this article will discuss is: Under what circumstances must one pray again because one was inattentive.

The Uniqueness of Birkas Avos

Although one might think that all the berachos of Shemoneh Esrei should be treated equally, they are not. The first beracha, called “Birkas Avos,” has a very special role to play. In reference to the promises that Avraham receives at the beginning of this week’s parsha, the Gemara comments:

Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said, “when the Torah states, ‘and I will make you into a great nation’ (Bereishis 12:2) this refers to when we say in our prayer, ‘Elokei Avraham’ [The G-d of Avraham]; ‘and I will bless you’ – this refers to when we say, ‘Elokei Yitzchak’; ‘and I will make your name great’ – this refers to when we say, ‘Elokei Yaakov.’ Perhaps the conclusion of the beracha should include all three forefathers? However, the Torah says, ‘and you will be the blessing’ – the conclusion of the beracha mentions only Avraham, not the others” (Pesachim 117b). Therefore, the first beracha of Shemoneh Esrei closes with the words Magen Avraham, that Hashem protected Avraham. We see that much of the structure of Birkas Avos is derived from the beginning words of our parsha.

Kavanah and Birkas Avos

The Gemara teaches: Someone who is praying must be attentive to the entire prayer. If he is unable to pay attention to the entire prayer, then he should focus minimally on at least one of the berachos. Rabbi Chiya quoting Rav Safra in the name of one of the scholars of Rebbe’s yeshiva explained that the beracha requiring attentiveness is Avos (Berachos 34b). Rashi explains that since Avos is the first beracha, failure to concentrate during its recital reveals that the individual is not really interested in davening, in which case it does not constitute a service. However, someone becoming preoccupied by his thoughts after the first beracha does not demonstrate that he did not want to daven, but simply that humans can easily be distracted.

Another reason why attentiveness during Birkas Avos is essential is that Shemoneh Esrei begins with a blessing that focuses on Hashem‘s greatness, which is the entire purpose of prayer. If this blessing was recited without kavanah, one has failed to pray, thus requiring its repetition (Bach, Orach Chayim 101; Mishnah Berurah 101:3).

Should I not daven?

If the entire purpose of prayer is to focus on Hashem‘s greatness, what should someone do if he realizes that because of circumstances beyond his control, he cannot possibly be attentive when he prays? On the one hand, the mitzvah requires him to pray properly, yet this is impossible to achieve.

The Gemara rules that he is exempt from prayer.

Someone whose thoughts are unsettled should not pray… Rabbi Chanina did not pray on a day that he had gotten angry… One who returns from a trip should not pray for three days (Eruvin 65a). Rashi explains that because of the exhaustion of the trip he is not settled enough to pray properly until three days have passed. The Rambam codifies this: Any prayer recited inattentively is not a prayer. Someone who prayed without thinking must repeat the prayer attentively. If he finds that he is distracted, it is forbidden for him to pray until he composes himself. For this reason, someone returning from traveling who is exhausted or distressed may not pray until he composes himself. Our Sages said a person should wait three days until he is rested and calm, and only then should he pray (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 4:15). Thus, we see that someone who cannot have kavanah because of extenuating circumstances, such as illness or exhaustion, is exempt from davening.

Similarly, we find this recorded in another early halachic source, the Semag**: A person should assess himself. If he is able to focus his prayer at least in Birkas Avos, then he should pray. If he is unable to focus this much, then he should not pray (Positive Mitzvah #19).

Beyond our poor power to add or detract

The Shulchan Aruch modifies this conclusion, ruling as follows:

A person should not pray in a place where something will distract him and not at a time when he is distracted. However, now we are not that meticulous about this because we do not concentrate that well in our prayers (Orach Chayim 98:2).

Nevertheless, the Shulchan Aruch still rules that one must have a minimum amount of kavanah to fulfill the mitzvah of praying. To quote him: One who prays must be attentive to all the berachos. If he cannot do so, he should at least focus on the beracha of Avos. And if he was inattentive to Avos, even if he recited the rest of the berachos with kavanah, he should repeat the prayer (Orach Chayim 101:1).

Is it a prayer if it lacked kavanah?

This takes us to a new question. What is the halacha if a person realizes after the fact that he recited the first beracha of Shemoneh Esrei without any kavanah?

The following Talmudic passage discusses our question:

Rabbi Yochanan said: I saw Rabbi Yannai pray, and then pray again (Berachos 30b). Why did Rabbi Yannai pray twice in quick succession? Rabbi Yirmiyah explained that Rabbi Yannai presumably had not prayed the first prayer with proper kavanah, and therefore repeated it. Although the Gemara ultimately rejects Rabbi Yirmiyah’s interpretation of Rabbi Yannai’s actions, the point is still halachically valid: Someone who davened without kavanah should repeat the Tefillah. This regulation is codified as follows: If a person prayed without any kavanah when reciting the first beracha, he should repeat his prayers (Hagahos Ashri, Berachos, end of Chapter 5).

Will I be repeating davening forever?

This ruling may lead to the following predicament: If someone davened the first time without kavanah, perhaps he will daven again without kavanah. What will have been accomplished with the second davening? It is because of this concern that the above rule is adapted in the following statement:

One who davens and did not focus on his prayer, if he knows that he can pray again and focus, he should repeat the prayer, and if not, he should not repeat the prayer (Sefer Hamitzvos Katan***, Mitzvah #11).

This last opinion is expanded by the Tur and, in turn, by the Rama (Orach Chayim 101), who rule that should someone fail to have kavanah during the beracha of Avos, one should not repeat one’s prayer, because of the likelihood that he will not have kavanah the second time around either.

This does not absolve us of the requirement to daven with kavanah, but merely explains that someone who davened without kavanah should not repeat the davening, since there is a good chance that the second davening will be no improvement over the first. For this reason, the Chayei Adam (34:2) rules that we do not repeat the Shemoneh Esrei. However he notes that if the person realizes prior to reciting the name of Hashem at the end of Avos that he did not daven with kavanah, he should return to the words Elokei Avraham and repeat most of the beracha. In this instance, since the beracha was not yet completed, he should attempt to recite the beracha with proper kavanah.

We cannot concentrate, we cannot hallow…

At this point, let us discuss Mutti’s predicament. “Despite my best intentions, my mind sometimes wanders during davening, although I really wish I could focus always on building my relationship with Hashem. I recently discovered that the Mishnah Berurah rules that someone saying Shemoneh Esrei who realizes that he recited the first beracha without kavanah should refrain from proceeding until the chazzan’s repetition, and be very attentive to the chazzan’s davening. I tried this once, but did not find this solution practical. The Mishnah Berurah‘s suggestion also does not help my wife, who davens at home. Although I am trying hard to think of the meaning of the words of the first beracha of Shemoneh Esrei, is there a different way to resolve the predicament should I discover at some time in the future that I recited this beracha without kavanah?”

Mutti is referring to the following point:

The Mishnah Berurah (in Bi’ur Halacha 101:1 s.v. Veha’idna) asks what should one do if, after completing the beracha of Avos, he realizes that he recited the first beracha without kavanah? How can he continue davening if he did not fulfill his mitzvah of praying?

The Mishnah Berurah is assuming that without kavanah the Tefillah had no purpose at all. He therefore feels that the person who is in the middle of davening and realizes that he recited the first beracha without kavanah faces a conundrum. He may not continue davening because this davening is purposeless, and at the same time he may not repeat the beracha he has already recited because of concern that the repeated beracha will also be said without kavanah. The Mishnah Berurah therefore suggests that someone in this predicament should wait until the chazzan repeats the Shemoneh Esrei and have in mind to fulfill his prayer requirement by paying careful attention to the chazzan’s words.

Notwithstanding this analysis, the Mishnah Berurah notes that the Chayei Adam implies that once one has completed the first beracha of Shemoneh Esrei and realizes that he did not have kavanah, he may continue reciting Shemoneh Esrei. The question is why? The answer appears to be that although one is required to pray with kavanah, a prayer recited without kavanah does not have the status of a beracha recited in vain, and the remaining Tefillah is still considered a Tefillah.

Beyond our poor power…

In explanation of this last point, the Kehilos Yaakov (Berachos #26) explains that there are two distinct responsibilities, one to recite prayers and the other to pray with kavanah. One who prayed without kavanah fulfilled one mitzvah but not the other. Therefore, the prayer recited without kavanah is not in vain, and even fulfills a mitzvah, but does not fulfill the greater mitzvah of praying with kavanah.

Rav Elyashiv (published in Madrich Hakashrus Glatt, Volume 20, pg. 143) objects to this approach, contending that we do not find anywhere that there are two distinct different mitzvos involved in prayer. He therefore suggests an alternative approach: someone who prayed without kavanah fulfilled one’s responsibility to daven, but the importance of praying with kavanah allows one who can do so to pray again. Rav Elyashiv compares this to praying a voluntary prayer, a tefilas nedavah. In the time of the Gemara when people usually prayed with kavanah, one who prayed without kavanah was strongly advised to repeat the prayer, this time with kavanah. The Tur and Rama are explaining that when there is a good chance that the subsequent prayer will also be without proper kavanah, one should not pray a second time, because the voluntary prayer is only in order to pray with kavanah, which we cannot guarantee will result.

Praying when unsettled

However, both the Kehilas Yaakov and Rav Elyashiv’s approaches are difficult to sustain in light of the following passage of Gemara, which we mentioned above:

Someone whose thoughts are unsettled should not pray… Rabbi Chanina did not pray on a day that he had gotten angry… One who returns from a trip should not pray for three days (Eruvin 65a).

According to both the Kehilas Yaakov and Rav Elyashiv, how can the Gemara rule that someone who is unsettled should not pray? One who fails to pray abrogates the mitzvah of prayer, which they hold one fulfills even if the prayer lacks kavanah? The above Gemara implies that there is no point to pray if he will not have kavanah.

These unsuccessful prayers shall not be berachos in vain

Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shelomoh, Tefillah I pg. 99) presents a different approach that explains the Chayei Adam‘s ruling beautifully. Indeed, one who prayed without the minimum kavanah did not fulfill the mitzvah of Tefillah. However, these berachos are still praises to Hashem and are therefore not considered to be in vain, notwithstanding that one did not fulfill the mitzvah of Tefillah. According to this analysis, reciting Shemoneh Esrei without any kavanah at all did not fulfill the mitzvah of Tefillah, but the nineteen berachos recited were all “kosher” berachos.

Rav Shelomoh Zalman rallies support to his approach from the fact that we train children to daven, knowing full well that they are not going to have kavanah. If indeed this is considered a beracha levatalah, how could we do this?

He therefore concludes that although a prayer without kavanah does not fulfill the mitzvah of Tefillah, it is nevertheless a valid beracha. It will count towards one’s requirement to recite 100 berachos every day, which would certainly not be so if the beracha was in vain.

Now, what happens if someone finds himself in Mutti’s predicament? After completing the first beracha of Shemoneh Esrei, he realizes that he failed to have kavanah. The poskim rule that he should not repeat the davening. However, following the ruling implied by the Chayei Adam, he may continue his Tefillah and the berachos do not have the status of berachos levatalah, notwithstanding that he will not fulfill the mitzvah of Tefillah.

Although the Kehilos Yaakov and Rav Elyashiv proposed different approaches to resolve the question at hand, they also agree with the conclusion that Mutti may complete his Tefillah.

Conclusion

Certainly, one should do whatever one can to make sure to pay attention to the meaning of the words of one’s Tefillah, and particularly to the first beracha of Shemoneh Esrei. Nevertheless, according to the Kehilos Yaakov, Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach, one who failed to have kavanah on his first beracha may continue with his Tefillah.

* The name has been changed to protect his privacy.

** The author of this last statement is one of the Baalei Tosafos, Rabbi Moshe of Coucy, in his magnum opus, the Sefer Mitzvos Hagadol, which is usually called by its Hebrew acronym Semag. Although this work is not used today as one of the primary sources in deciding halacha, for a period of several hundred years this was one of the main, if not the primary source for halacha among Ashkenazic Jewry. Among the proofs that demonstrate this is the huge number of early commentaries written on it, and that it is one of the sources in halacha footnotes in the margin of the Gemara by the annotator Ein Mishpat. Although in the course of time, the Rosh and the Tur (and then later the Rama) supplanted the Semag as the main halachic source for Ashkenazi Jewry, it is still quoted extensively by the Beis Yosef and later commentaries.

*** Shortly after the Semag authored his work, which encompasses all the halachos that the Gemara teaches, organized according to the 613 mitzvos, a different Baal Tosafos, Rav Yitzchak of Corveille, authored a briefer work that summarizes the halachos of the mitzvos that we can practice during the time of the churban when living outside of Eretz Yisrael. His work is called Sefer Hamitzvos Katan and is usually referred by the acronym Semak to distinguish it from the monumental work of the Semag.

image_print